Horner: Max and Dan were Red Bull’s strongest pairing

If things had gone the way Red Bull were planning (and hoping) Daniel Ricciardo would have stayed with the team beyond 2018 but instead this week they are saying farewell to one of their favourites sons who has decided to seek fame and fortune elsewhere.

Ricciardo’s move to Renault ends a formidable driver pairing, two drivers who pushed each other to greater heights, both can be counted in the top five best drivers of this generation who worked together well most times.

The contest was pretty close, although Verstappen was superior in the final half of the season one can point to a mysterious bout of bad reliability which seriously compromised Ricciardo’s final races with Red Bull.

During the Australian’s farewell tour of the factor with Verstappen present, team chief Christian Horner said of the teammates, “I said to them in our last debrief that for me, it’s been our best partnership that we’ve had in Red Bull Racing’s career.”

“In fact it’s probably the best one I have ever had in my career in terms of the dynamics between the two, the respect, the way they have pushed each other on.”

“I think that’s on-track, and I think they have both benefited each other off-track. Max has learned a lot from Daniel, the way he’s operated himself within the team and it’s been a very good rapport and they’ve both pushed each other to new levels.”

Ricciardo arrived in the Red Bull garage to partner Sebastian Vettel in 2014 with his trademark big smile, he also lightened the mood that had been sombre for years during the Vettel versus Mark Webber feud.

Winning thrice on his debut with the team and beating Vettel in the championship, he earned the respect of all within and outside the team.

With Vettel Ferrari bound, Daniil Kvyat was promoted from Toro Rosso in 2015, but the young Russian up against Ricciardo lost his way and was replaced by Verstappen four races into the 2016 season, upon which the young Dutchman seized the opportunity to rewrite the F1 record books starting with his first race with the team that year at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ricciardo met his match as Verstappen proved to be fast and aggressive, albeit incident-prone and gradually the balance of power shifted to the #33 side of the garage as the team backed their youngster with a three-year contract before doing a deal with the Aussie. That hurt.

When Renault came calling with a big chequebook and a proper works ride offering him a two-year deal, he shocked the establishment and took it, perhaps hedging his bets that Honda will not get their act together and provide Red Bull with a competitive engine package. Time will tell.

Last month, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ricciardo lined up on the grid for the 100th and final time in Red Bull colours, having scored 29 podiums – seven of them victories – for the team. Prior to that the energy drinks organisation backed his climb through to Formula 1 with HRT, the Toro Rosso and finally Red Bull. Proof that the organisation’s driver programme worked at some point.

Horner continued, “He’s been a pleasure to have in the team the last five years. He’s been with Red Bull since 2007, and it has been great to see him grow and evolve.”

“Ironically, when we were first faced with a dilemma of who do we replace Mark Webber with — there was Jean-Eric Vergne, there was Daniel Ricciardo, there was Kimi Raikkonen — our biggest concern about Daniel wasn’t his pace but it was that we hadn’t seen him race wheel to wheel while he was at Toro Rosso.”

“And ever since he’s been in a Red Bull Racing car he’s done nothing but overtakes — and arguably has become the best overtaker in the business.”

“He’s driven some fantastic races for us. His personality has been a tremendous fit for the brand. His energy in the team has been hugely popular, the dynamics with him and Max — you’ve only got to look at the mischief they get up to — it’s been great.”

“All we can do, as that chapter closes, is wish him the best of luck for the future and a new chapter opens with a new talent in Pierre Gasly,” added Horner.

In the two years together, Verstappen and Ricciardo were teammates in blue for 57 races from the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix until the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. During that period stats show that Verstappen scored five wins to Ricciardo’s four triumphs, with the Dutchman celebrating 22 times on the podiums and the Aussie on 19 occasions.