Image: KymIllman.com

AS DANIEL RICCIARDO peers beneath that much maligned halo device this weekend, he is acutely aware 2018 is his most challenging season. 

The affable motor racing superstar from the leafy Perth suburb of Duncraig has become, as much as anyone, the face of Formula One.     That brilliant smile is a trademark worth squillions.

But Daniel knows the biggest obstacle he faces is from the garage right next door at Bahrain’s Bakhir Circuit.   The  one occupied by MAX VERSTAPPEN,  his Red Bull teammate.   The young Dutchman has made an indelible imprint during a brief F1 career.   And Daniel has no doubts he needs to better Max this year, to make easier the answer to that vital question he’s asking himself:

“Where to in ’19 and beyond?”

Remember, the 28-year-old Aussie has been aligned with the Red Bull family since 2008 and his contract ends this year.   That’s 10 years where he pretty much has had to do whatever his contract dictates.    Hardly the master of his own destiny.   Whatever he does next will be his own choice.   A first, really, since he’s been in F1.    And undoubtedly the biggest decision of his career.

Red Bull’s 2017 was dogged by well-documented disappointments,       No question though,  Daniel Ricciardo is still up there with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, his former teammate against whom he honed his reputation and those tenacious passing skills.

The fact remains Max took out 2017 qually honours 13-7.     And the younger man remarkably has reached another stratosphere after his wily dad Jos Verstappen stitched up a contract to 2020.     It has elevated 20-year-old Max to third on the list of this year’s F1 driver pay packets – behind only world champions Lewis and  Sebastian.

Daniel still refers to 2014 as his “awesome” year.    But now it’s 2018 and he knows he really must put in a stellar performance.

“A Phenomenal Driver.”

Red Bull’s line-up is, according to Team boss Christian Horner:

“The strongest driver pairing in F1.   Max and Daniel push each other to such high limits and that’s tremendously exciting for us!”

Christian describes Daniel as  “a phenomenal driver” who is “absolutely ready for a championship challenge if we can provide him with the tools to do the job”.    There’s the rub.   That sure didn’t go to plan last year.    Most of the cards are now out there on the table.    And Daniel holds all the aces.    Except  for that one!

But he will find the right solution to that crucial question, always at the back of his brilliant mind.     And it’ll finally be his choice as to when, and where, he decides to let us know.

EDITED by AC

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