Daniel Ricciardo's first season in the colours of Red Bull Racing was an unqualified success. The young Australian broke into the ranks of grand prix winners, burnished his reputation as a mighty performer in qualifying and displayed a combination of strategic acumen and decisive overtaking skills that propelled him to a string of impressive results. His three 2014 victories and five other podium finishes were enough to secure third place in the 2014 drivers' championship.
Daniel came through Red Bull's ranks, launched on the path to a successful motorsports career via the well-established Junior Team. After learning his trade in Formula Ford and Asia-Pacific Formula BMW competitions, he took the plunge and followed in the footsteps of the southern hemisphere greats by moving to Europe to pit his skills against the best of his generation.
Daniel initially took residence in Italy, contesting the 2007 season in Formula Renault 2.0. He joined our programme in 2008 and won the Formula Renault 2.0 WEC championship. The next year he took the prestigious British Formula 3 title– traditionally a gateway to great things in Formula One. He finished 2009 with a three-day test at Jerez in the RB5, finished top of the timesheets, completed nearly 300 faultless laps and making our engineers sit up and take notice with his speed, confidence and precise feedback. They also noticed he seemed to be enjoying it quite a bit too.
Off the back of his Formula 3 record and his speedy acclimatisation to the F1 cockpit, Daniel stepped up for 2010, becoming test and reserve driver for Scuderia Toro Rosso while also competing in the World Series by Renault. Daniel narrowly missed out on the FR3.5 title after impressive victories at Hockenheim, the Hungaroring, the Circuit de Catalunya and the showpiece round in Monaco.
Daniel stayed with Toro Rosso for the 2011 season, advancing his education with regular drives in the first free practice sessions of grand prix weekends. He also raced a truncated campaign in FR3.5 and again won the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix support race also taking pole position and fastest lap. These striking performances in the first half of the year led to Daniel being loaned to HRT for the final 11 rounds of the 2011 F1 season. He made his F1 race debut at Silverstone, and strong performances for the Spanish backmarker led to confirmation of a race seat for Toro Rosso in 2012.
In two years with Toro Rosso, Daniel established himself as a future star of Formula One. Lightning qualifying performances were backed up with grand prix drives that blended aggression and intelligence: Daniel pushed the limit – but he also brought the car home. During his two years at Red Bull Racing's sister team, Daniel scored points in 13 of his 39 grands prix and established a reputation as a gritty, confident racer, sure in his decisions and capable of getting the best out of his machinery. In qualifying he had demonstrated real quality, frequently hauling his Toro Rosso to the head of the midfield. Eight times in 2013 Daniel made it through into the Q3 qualifying shoot-out, pulling out scintillating laps when the pressure was on. When Mark Webber announced his retirement from F1, Daniel was the natural and ready-made replacement.
The immediate question in the minds of many was how Daniel would shape up with four-times World Champion Sebastian Vettel as a team-mate. "A lot of people have been asking the question," said Daniel at the time. "I'd love to believe that I'll be up there with him but I don't want to start saying I'm going to beat him only for him to come out on track and kick my butt. I'll let the driving do the talking and hopefully it'll do some positive talking. Obviously it's my biggest challenge yet ...but hopefully it's his biggest challenge too."
To the outside world, Daniel exceeded expectations in 2014 by proving a match for Sebastian but inside Red Bull Racing he did the job that was expected of him. Daniel didn't come into the team cold: he had tested our cars on many occasions; had frequently been our driver for marketing work and show car appearances and, perhaps most pertinently, had served his time as our simulator driver, logging long days in Milton Keynes, providing factory support as the race team travelled the globe chasing World Championship glory. To our engineers he was a known quantity: fast, intelligent and capable of providing the type of feedback that would prove crucial in a season liable to be dominated by technical development.
In his first season with a front-running team, Daniel recorded a number of firsts. At his home grand prix and on debut for Red Bull Racing, he qualified in second place – his first front row grand prix start. He also finished the race second and made his first podium appearance – only for that to be struck from the record for a technical infringement. Strong performances and an obvious affinity with the RB10, however, meant it was not long before he got back on the podium. After fourth place finishes in Bahrain and China, he moved up to third in Spain and Monaco – but then things got really interesting.
Daniel took his maiden F1 victory in Canada. A good strategy and overtaking moves right on the ragged edge saw him charge through the field in the closing laps to gain the lead shortly before the chequered flag, becoming the fourth Australian to win a grand prix, following in the footsteps of Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones and Mark.
Two more victories followed: a finely judged tactical triumph in Hungary and a flat-out blast around the mighty Spa-Francorchamps. He also made the podium at Silverstone, in Singapore and on the Circuit of the Americas. One of his finest performances, however, was saved 'til last, a fourth place in Abu Dhabi after starting in the pitlane.
The standout for Daniel is naturally his performance at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. "My first victory was a lot of fun," he says. "And it definitely wasn't a boring race. Yeah, it was pretty cool."
'Fun' is a word that occupies a lot of Daniel's conversation and, according to race engineer Simon Rennie, for Daniel it's all about the overtaking: "I haven't had a driver who's been so excited about overtaking people for a long time! It's not the qualifying or the race for Daniel – they're simply the journey to get to the overtake."
When the visor's down Daniel radiates focussed determination – but out of the car he's a very laid back Aussie, keen on spending as much time as possible outdoors, always searching for the next adventure and eager to get into pretty much any sport you care to mention – but predominantly anything involving bikes or water.
This is slightly at odds with his alter ego, The Honey Badger. It features prominently in his helmet design and perhaps needs a bit of explaining. In his own words: "I came across the Honey Badger a while back. It's not the biggest animal in the world, in fact it looks a bit like a wombat. It's pretty cute, you wouldn't think much of it – but in reality it's a raging ball of anger that tears things apart. It's a bit like me: don't be fooled by the sunshine exterior, press the right buttons and I can be a very dark individual." Based upon all the available evidence, nobody believes this to be true.