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Time for the honey badger to bite

That’s the trouble with being a Formula 1 driver: there’s always someone younger, faster and more ‘of-the-moment’ fashionable wanting your ride.

Four-and-a-bit years ago that young gun was a 24-year-old Daniel Ricciardo to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, then 26, at Red Bull.

Dan’s pace and punch had seen off Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat at junior team Toro Rosso, demanding his elevation to Red Bull Racing, where he’d be partnered with Seb, who was king of the F1 world: four straight world titles, if you please.

Tough gig? Maybe Dan didn’t get the memo, for 19 races, three wins and 238 points later, he’d completely shaded his starry team leader, finishing as best non-Mercedes driver, with Vettel only fifth in the championship, winless.

Chastened, Vettel jumped ship to Ferrari, reputation largely secure but now ‘asterisked’ with a marker: ‘thumped by the honey badger in 2014’.

Heady days, then, for Ricciardo and he’d go on to be declared ‘the best driver in the world’ by our sister title Autosport that year, and again in 2016.

So given all that forward momentum, his crowd-pleasing ‘shoeys’ and a confident, easy manner that makes him a media favourite, how come it’s not Dan who’s now The Man – king of the world, as Vettel was before him?

In part he can blame Renault’s inability to get fully to grips with the demands of the F1 hybrid power unit era: they’ve never been able to match the pace set by Mercedes and Ferrari, leaving Red Bull more often than not playing catch-up or ‘smash ’n’ grab’ these past four seasons, hoping to devour whatever crumb of victory has fallen from the table.

There’s also the inconvenient truth of a certain Max Verstappen having ‘done a Dan’ to Dan himself.

Max’s win at the 2016 Spanish GP, on his Red Bull debut, took some swallowing for Ricciardo and Verstappen’s subsequent searing pace caused Red Bull to swoon and offer their protégé a contract worth more than $25m per season through to 2020.

A new darling? Certainly – and a lesser man than Dan might have allowed his head to drop in the face of such favouritism. Ricciardo’s made of tougher (and quicker) stuff than that, however, and as our analysis (p36) explains, the perception that he offers a ‘steady hand’ to counter-balance Verstappen’s more mercurial gifts is largely erroneous. He’s the real deal – don’t doubt it: too quick and canny for Merc to offer him a role as a Hamilton wing-man; too destabilising of Vettel’s fragile temperament for a Ferrari role to be viable right now.

And with an ever-improving Honda motor behind his shoulders for 2019, just watch him fly…

Anthony Rowlinson
Creative content director

Inside the issue

This month's features include

Prime Time
He’s in the form of his life but what comes next for Australia’s finest, Daniel Ricciardo?

You ask the questions: Daniel Ricciardo
Dan answers your queries about UFC and swimming shorts

Williams at a grand prix
The nuts and bolts behind running an F1 team over a race weekend

Esteban speaks
Over lunch in Paris, Esteban Ocon opens up about his route to F1

Calendar time
Can F1 cope with more races, and does the sport need them?

Fernando’s Le Mans glory
We follow Alonso as he completes part 2 of motorsport’s triple crown

Nikita Mazepin
In conversation with Force India’s young Russian test driver

Now that was a car
The Benetton B192

Plus

Racer’s edge
Peter Windsor on Ronnie Peterson’s first win at Paul Ricard

Under the hood
Pat Symonds on 2019 tech changes

Parades
Stunning images from Canada and France

Grand prix greats
Nigel Roebuck remembers the first champion, Giuseppe Farina

Me and my lid
Fernando Alonso’s design inspiration

F1 insider 
Expert opinion and analysis

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