One could argue that Daniel Ricciardo was inadvertently muscled out of Red Bull by Max Verstappen, but instead of harbouring a grudge the Australian predicts that the young Dutchman could be one of the greats of Formula 1.
During his final podcast for the energy drinks outfit, Ricciardo said of his 21-year-old teammate, “There’s a lot of potential, for sure some potential greatness for Max. I think it’s all about the trajectory. He was quick from day one but I’m convinced he’s a lot quicker than his first win for Red Bull.”
“I’m sure he’ll keep improving, but it’s probably going to be more of a scenario/situation if he’s going to be in a car that’s capable. That’s probably going to dictate what levels of greatness he’s going to achieve.”
Ricciardo is the perfect Red Bull driver specimen, backed by the energy drinks organisation during his junior career as far back as 2007.
They then financed his F1 debut and half season with HRT in 2011, before promoting him to Toro Rosso. By 2014 his minders who believed he was ready to step up and be the teammate for their four times World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
They were correct, Ricciardo won three times that year and beat Vettel in the championship. The German packed his bags and headed to Ferrari. Ricciardo was the big cheese at Red Bull.
Daniil Kvyat was promoted to fill Vettel’s shoes which he could not do and after a year (and a bit) the Russian was demoted back to Toro Rosso, swapping cockpits with Max Verstappen. The record-breaking teenager seized his chance and drove a stormer to claim victory on his debut for the Blues at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. The rest is well chronicled.
Soon it became apparent that Verstappen was the favoured son within the team, Helmut Marko particularly enamoured and paternal over the Dutch lad.
Often wayward, always controversial the driver of the #33 car matured and evolved. After a troubled start to 2018, Verstappen bounced back to deliver a high-end finish to his season, correcting the wrongs that plagued him all the way to Monaco.
Meanwhile, since then, Ricciardo shocked the paddock when he decided to defect to Renault and step away from his alma mater, heading into uncharted waters with a second tier team, albeit a works operation with ambition and able to pay him a hefty salary to boot.
But, perhaps decisively, he has moved away from the growing shadow of Verstappen.
The Aussie continued, “He’s obviously very talented and I’ve enjoyed the challenge with him, the rivalry. I think we’ve both grown as drivers – it’s been beneficial to both of our careers.”
The pair had their fair share of moments that would have crumbled most teammate relationships, their collisions in Hungary 2017 or Baku earlier this year spring to mind, but bad blood was not spilt in a Hamilton-Rosberg or Vettel-Webber style.
Instead, now that they are in different teams, Ricciardo predicts the friendship will thrive, “Unless we’re battling for the same bit of Tarmac. That could always spice it up!”
“I’ll be honest, I’d say the relationship with Max and myself went better than I thought it would go. Just our personalities and our self-belief. I really believe he thinks he’s the best in the world and I believe I am.”
“So, that can obviously clash. But we always managed at least 99% of the time managed to keep that in its own little place. It was cool, it was a good, hard fight with him and I enjoyed it,” added Renault’s 31st Formula 1 driver.
Big Question: Is Max heading for F1 greatness?