Once champion material, Daniel Ricciardo is fast running out of time in Formula One - Hindustan Times

Once champion material, Daniel Ricciardo is fast running out of time in Formula One

By, New Delhi
Apr 22, 2024 10:00 PM IST

2024 has been far from ideal for the Australian, who hasn't managed to earn a single point in the five races so far.

Daniel Ricciardo was a frustrated man on Sunday. Finally looking good for his first points finish of the year, the Australian was taken out by Lance Stroll when the Aston Martin drove into the rear of the RB, giving it a big jolt to damage its diffuser and floor as it landed back on the tarmac.

RB's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo looks on before the sprint race (AFP) PREMIUM
RB's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo looks on before the sprint race (AFP)

Ricciardo used a lot of expletives during the post Chinese Grand Prix interviews for both Stroll and his run of luck which seems to be running out as his year and career progresses.

Ricciardo’s current situation is a stark contrast from when he was driving the Red Bull. Touted as the next big thing in Formula 1, a young Ricciardo had beaten the then reigning four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in his first year at Red Bull. He won three races in 2014 to none of Vettel, who had a record-breaking 13-win season a year prior.

The 34-year-old Ricciardo went on to win four more races with the Milton Keynes-based outfit till 2018 to show the paddock that he was potential world championship material, particularly because the Red Bull was far from the fastest car in the Mercedes-dominated era. Who can forget the famous 2018 Monaco Grand Prix when Ricciardo clinched a remarkable victory in the streets of Monte Carlo despite driving a car that had 25 percent less horsepower with only six of the eight gears functioning.

But noticing Red Bull’s decision to back young prodigy Max Verstappen, the Aussie decided to part ways and head to Renault. In hindsight, the decision turned out to be a dud. Had he stayed with Red Bull, he would have for sure won many more races and could perhaps have been the only real match for Verstappen today.

Though he achieved a couple of podiums in his two years with Renault, the French manufacturer could never provide Ricciardo with a race-winning car despite much promise.

Seeing McLaren’s rise in performance, Ricciardo decided to try his luck with the English team, a decision that turned out to be almost a career-ending call. Barring that epic afternoon in 2021 when he clinched victory – his last – at the historic Monza circuit, Ricciardo’s two-year stint turned out to be a dud. The Australian just could not come to terms to driving the machine McLaren had offered him, being completely outdriven by rookie teammate Lando Norris.

Following the two dismal years, McLaren decided to drop the eight-time race winner despite Ricciardo delivering McLaren’s only win in nine years.

Once touted as a potential world champion, Ricciardo was without a seat for the first time in his F1 career in 2023. “He should be racing. He’s far too talented and he’s earned the right to be amongst us all racing," seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had said back then.

The return

Without a drive for 2023 and an uncertain future, Ricciardo’s career looked all but over. But as luck would have it, he received a call from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to join the team as a reserve. Horner still believed in the Australian, that he could deliver when given a drive, having witnessed some scintillating drives first hand.

Simultaneously, AlphaTauri’s – Red Bull’s sister team – new recruit Nyck de Vries, who had won the 2020-21 Formula E title, performed miserably in the first 10 races. Known to ruthlessly remove underperforming drivers, Red Bull lived up to the billing as they deposed the Dutchman.

Enter Ricciardo.

The Australian got a second lease of life when he was offered de Vries’ seat. But in only his third race on return, Ricciardo broke a metacarpal bone in his hand in seven places in a crash he suffered at the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix, ruling him out of the next five races.

On return, he earned his first points in a year when he finished seventh at the Mexican Grand Prix, showing he hadn’t lost his touch.

However, 2024 has been far from ideal for the Australian. Out of five races, in three he finished outside the points while the last two ended in retirements. At the same time, teammate Yuki Tsunoda has seven very crucial points that has put RB – rebranded from AlphaTauri – above Haas (5), Williams, Alpine and Sauber (all 0), easily making them the ‘best of the rest’ outfit. The top 5 – Red Bull (195), Ferrari (151), McLaren (96), Mercedes (52) and Aston Martin (40) are way out of their league.

Time is running out for Ricciardo. Things have changed a lot since the time he rejoined the Red Bull setup. Then, the talk of the paddock was of him replacing Sergio Perez and reuniting with old teammate Verstappen. But if he doesn’t pull up his socks soon, Ricciardo could well face the Red Bull axe, known for mercilessly ending the careers of many drivers.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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