OPINION: Daniel Ricciardo is the most underrated driver from the 2010s
Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Sameena Khan
The 2010s saw an influx of several talented drivers into the prestigious world of Formula One. While some drivers discovered their mojo and went on championship-winning runs, this era saw many talented drivers debut in the sport. Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, George Russell, and Lando Norris are among many drivers who made their debut at varying stages of the decade gone by and have achieved success or earmarked themselves as one for the future.
And one of the drivers who achieved plenty of success yet fell short of the ultimate prize is Daniel Ricciardo. The smiling Aussie sensation had his breakthrough season in 2014 for Red Bull and has taken eight Grands-Prix victories during his tenure in the sport.
A fantastic overtaker, his audacious dive-bombs got many standing up and applauding. All his victories were fashioned by audacious overtakes, the Australian getting “dandier on the brakes”, as he, in his own words, “Licked the stamp and sent it”. His overtakes at Monza on Vettel in 2014 gave us a sign of what was to come. Two more stunning overtakes on Valtteri Bottas, and Kimi Raikkonen in later editions of the race well and truly affirmed his status as a master overtaker.
After all, when you watch back at some of his victories, his astounding triple overtake at Baku in 2017 put him in a prime position to take the win once title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were forced to pit, and his overtakes on Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at China a year later were clinical, the Aussie braking later than his rivals, and executing manoeuvres to perfection. As David Croft said in a commentary in Singapore in 2019, “He sees a gap, and he goes for it.”
His tally of eight victories undermines the talent possessed by the Honey Badger. After making his debut for HRT, as part of an agreement with Red Bull, Ricciardo secured a seat at Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) for the 2012 season. A good showing for the team across two seasons, coupled with the retirement of fellow Aussie Mark Webber, saw Ricciardo graduate to the senior Red Bull team at the dawn of F1’s new V8 era. With Red Bull on an unprecedented run until then, having won four drivers and constructors titles each, the stage looked set for Ricciardo to make a splash competing at the head of the field in his first season.
However, things spiralled downhill for Red Bull in 2014. The Renault powerplant in the rear of the Red Bull was no match for the resurgent Mercedes’ power unit, limiting Ricciardo to all of three victories across the season, and all came when the Silver Arrows hit trouble. Nonetheless, “Ric Bobby” came of age during the season, outscoring four-time champion Vettel and putting in some overtakes that would become a feature of his driving for the years to come.
After the highs of 2014, Ricciardo had a tough 2015 season, with an uncompetitive and unreliable Renault power unit putting paid to his season, being outscored by new teammate Daniil Kvyat. The arrival of a new teammate, a young 18-year-old, Max Verstappen, seemed to have energised the Aussie. With a more potent Renault power unit at his disposal, Ricciardo finally broke his winless run at Malaysia in 2016, heading home a Red Bull 1-2, taking advantage of Mercedes’ problems that day. A brace of podiums across the season saw him emulate his third-place finish from two seasons prior.
Ricciardo had another excellent season in 2017, finishing fourth in the standings and taking victory at Baku, but it was in 2018 when everyone looked at Ricciardo as a potential championship contender. Two excellent drives to success at China and Monaco got everyone hoping for a championship battle involving the Honey Badger. However, it wasn’t meant to be, the rest of the year fizzling out into a torrid run of race-ending engine failures, grinding the Australian’s gears. Ricciardo ultimately chose to end his five-year relationship with the Austrian outfit, heading to newer pastures at Renault for 2019.
With Renault, and later McLaren, not being competitive to battle at the front regularly, Ricciardo was mostly battling it out in the midfield, making two podium appearances for Renault before the highest point of his McLaren career, seeing him win out at Monza in 2021, as he led home a McLaren 1-2. Unfortunately, the Aussie decided to part ways with the Woking outfit after a struggle in the 2022 season saw his younger teammate Norris outscore him by a whopping 85 points. A ray of light appeared in the form of former employers Red Bull, who signed up the smiling Aussie as a reserve driver for 2023.
It would be fair to say Ricciardo is an icon off the racetrack as well. He is a status icon in the USA, thanks to Netflix’s F1 docu-series, “Drive to Survive”. Heads turn as he steps foot on North American shores, and his regular US Grand Prix outfit choices have arguably caught the attention of many. One could arguably say that the US seems to be his second home, apart from the Australian outback in Perth; after all, he has grown into one of the most famous superstars in the ‘States. Being a NASCAR fan, rooting for the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr during his childhood days (and driving one of Earnhardt’s legendary race cars after winning a bet), and rooting for the Buffalo Bills, you start to see how it all adds up.
Apart from a surging popularity in the US, the Honey Badger is a fan-favourite in the sport itself: His regular off-track escapades catch everyone’s attention. His singing at Austin in 2019 during an interview, that press conference at the British GP earlier, and the odd shoey on the podium, when he finishes on the rostrum, all have seen Ricciardo become a popular figure outside of the racetrack as well and make it even more challenging to think that he will not be a frequent figure across the Paddock in the upcoming season.
A brilliant overtaker on the track, a jovial figure off it, and a driver who always has a wide smile, Daniel Ricciardo is arguably the most underrated driver of the 2010s. His career peaked when Mercedes reigned supreme, and Red Bull couldn’t match the standards set by Mercedes at the time, limiting Ricciardo to just seven wins with the Austrian outfit. Unstoppable on his day, It is no secret that everyone will be praying for the Honey Badger to return to the grid at the earliest.