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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Daniel Ricciardo to have 'a proper crack' at world title in 2018 as Red Bull aim to finish strong in Abu Dhabi

Australian has endured an up-and-down season that has featured one race win and nine podiums, although he has often been out-performed by teammate Verstappen.

Daniel Ricciardo, right, speaks to the media alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton, centre, and Sebastian Vettel, left. Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA
Daniel Ricciardo, right, speaks to the media alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton, centre, and Sebastian Vettel, left. Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA

Daniel Ricciardo has established himself as one of the most popular drivers on the Formula One grid thanks to his fun-loving nature and ability to find the humour in most situations.

The Red Bull Racing driver did not disappoint at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday when, in one of the news conference ahead of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he was asked to reflect on his season.

Looking to his right, where he was sharing the stage with two four-time world champions in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo smiled and said: “I mean, between us all we’ve got eight world titles, so it’s pretty good!”

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But in among the banter with the other two drivers, there was an aura of seriousness to the Australian as he looked back on a season that has not met his expectations.

He and Red Bull had hoped to challenge for the world title, and while he has finished on the podium nine times, only once has that been on the top step when he won for the fifth time in his career at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June.

Of more concern, Ricciardo has been out-performed, particularly in the second half of the year, by his younger teammate Max Verstappen.

The Dutch driver has won two of the past five races, and has out-qualified Ricciardo 13-6 in the 19 events so far this season. In 2016, Ricciardo had the edge 11-6 in the grands prix they were teammates in.

Ricciardo, 28, will finish ahead of Verstappen, 20, in the championship standings, with the Australian fourth and 42 points ahead of the sixth-placed Dutchman.

But some of that margin can be explained by Verstappen’s tough start to the season when a run of five retirements in the first nine races hindered his chances.

“On a personal level, just make sure that I fill in the blanks I guess," Ricciardo said asked to reflect on his season. “There have been some great races but obviously I would love all 20 to be great and not all 20 have been.

“I think, for me, to assess the year, once it’s all settled and then just try to understand what I could have improved. I’m sure there’s on-track stuff but also off track. Obviously I give every year a good crack, but give next year a proper crack.”

Of the challenge of matching Verstappen, Ricciardo admitted he had been impressed by his teammate’s development this year.

“Max improved this year from last,” he said. “I won’t say came a long way because he was always there but he certainly improved and I think next year it’s going to be a lot of fun, so looking forward to that.”

Verstappen, who spoke at a separate news conference, felt it was being more confident in qualifying that had helped him gain an edge on Ricciardo.

“That helped me to have better starting positions and if you start in a better position, normally your race result is also a bit better, if you make a decent start, so I think all in all that helps a lot,” he said.

Verstappen also shared Ricciardo’s frustration that he had been unable to fight Hamilton and Vettel for the world title, but did acknowledge his victories in Malaysia and Mexico had lifted his spirits.

Asked if he was happy with his end to the season, he said: “Not fully because I’m not fighting for the championship. But it’s been positive, the last few races.”

Verstappen is optimistic that he and Ricciardo can challenge for Red Bull’s first win in Abu Dhabi since 2013 this weekend, though he believes it is vital to qualify well on Saturday.

“Hopefully we will be a bit closer again,” he said. “I think if we can be close in qualifying then normally in the race we should be a little bit better so I’m looking forward to that.”