LAST SEASON’S OUTSTANDING DRIVER struggled to reach the same heights this year, mainly because of the leap forward
Max Verstappen made on the other side of the Red Bull garage. Ricciardo is the same super-smooth, fast and classy racer of recent seasons, it’s just that Verstappen’s superlative form made it tougher for him to stand out.
Whenever the RB13 was a bit loose, Ricciardo looked less comfortable than his team-mate, and there were a couple of uncharacteristic slumps and errors. When the car became a genuine victory contender at certain circuits during the final part of the year, it was Verstappen and not Ricciardo doing the winning.
There were still some brilliant performances: holding off Hamilton to finish on the podium in Austria; burns from the stern at Silverstone and Monza (including a trademark lunge pass on Kimi Raikkonen); and a brilliant weekend before the car broke in Abu Dhabi.
But although Ricciardo scored more podiums in one season than ever before, and finished fourth in the championship, he was definitively the second-best driver at Red Bull this year, which is a new experience for him.
Ricciardo remains one of the best on the grid, but now he is discovering what it’s like to exist in Verstappen’s shadow. Finding a way to emerge from it will be his next big test.