THE DREAM TEAM
Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are incredibly closely matched as team-mates. In terms of race results, there wasn’t much to separate them in 2017: Verstappen’s two wins beat Ricciardo’s one, but Ricciardo had eight other podiums, Verstappen only two, and Verstappen retired seven times and Ricciardo six. Dan finished 32 points ahead in the championship.
In qualifying, while the record appears skewed in Verstappen’s favour, it’s incredibly close on pure pace.
Verstappen’s edge is an average of only 0.03 seconds over 20 races; it’s just 0.015secs if you take out Baku, where Ricciardo crashed in final qualifying and didn’t set a time.
“Max improved this year,” admits Ricciardo. “Qualifying shows that. His Saturdays were certainly good. Our Sundays – he’s had two wins and I’ve had one, but generally my Sundays have been good, the racing and the racecraft. But the Saturdays I wouldn’t say I was happy with myself always, and he also improved.”
Verstappen attributes much of his upturn in performance to his extra experience, but some also to his preference for 2017’s faster, grippier cars over their predecessors.
“I like this kind of car a bit more,” he says. “You can be a bit more aggressive and that’s what I like. Last year  was very tricky and sensitive to front (brake) locking and stuff. This year you can go a lot faster into the corners and that helped me.”
Together, they make what many reckon to be F1’s strongest driver pairing and Verstappen’s value to Red Bull can be measured by the salary in his new contract. He’s now the third best-paid driver in F1 behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, on somewhere between £18-26m per season.
But how long can the inevitable competitive edge between these two outwardly friendly ‘big cats’ be contained?
For now, at least, Verstappen is optimistic: “Dan’s a great guy. On-track you always try to beat each other but off-track we can have a great laugh. I’ve never really experienced something like that in racing, to have such a good team-mate, to really have fun with. I hope we can be team-mates for a long time.”