“After my year in 2014, if I’d looked at 2020, I would have expected a world title or three.” This quote is from an interview released in March 2020, and it came from a driver many staunch F1 fans know as the Honey Badger, or the last of the late brakers.
Not every driver gets a nickname, let alone more than one. That’s the kind of work people put into someone with a considerable level of charisma, either in the way they drive, or their off-track presence. Daniel Ricciardo, the owner of the quote happens to be substantially adept in both.
But just like he admitted, I, and possibly many other fans are starting to think that he just might never get the drivers championship that we feel he’s worthy of.
Okay. I know you might be going like “Pshh! Since when does every good driver with a likeable personality deserve a championship.” Well, here’s why I think he’s championship material:
What makes Daniel Ricciardo special
One thing I commend Ricciardo for is his ability to seize the opportunity and thrive in the midst of chaos and adversity. This is a quality that a championship-winning driver undoubtedly needs, seeing as every race can’t go exactly according to plan.
Ricciardo’s 2018 Monaco win on low power and limited gears for the last 50 laps, his 2017 Azerbaijan win after running in 17th place at one point, and his 2018 China win are clear evidence of this attribute.
He has managed to be assertive at championship-winning teams like Red Bull and against championship-winning teammates like Sebastian Vettel. So why has the championship remained elusive?
The changing trend in Formula One
A lot of Formula One champions have some similarities in their stories; they started in a car that couldn’t win, pushed it beyond expectations, and subsequently got themselves into a better car.
Ricciardo was arguably on the same trajectory, but the Mercedes hybrid era dominance kicked, and every non-Mercedes driver with championship dreams had to put them on hold.
This dominance made it clearer that teams had to brew their car-driver combination for longer if they hoped to achieve significant success. It’s no surprise that more top teams have signed young drivers and proceeded to throw massive weight behind those drivers.
Max Verstappen at Red Bull, Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, and Lando Norris at McLaren.
Formula One is also on a quest to conquer new and younger fans to ensure its continuity. Don’t be mistaken, this move isn’t just for the top management to worry about.
The teams also have to endear themselves to the fans to an extent if the money is to keep coming in. So if seeing a young underdog beating the old and experienced lights up the young fans, the teams will eventually work towards it.
It’s no surprise that there are plenty of fans pushing for George Russell to get a Mercedes seat, regardless of whether drivers like Hamilton have epic moments like the 2020 Silverstone win on 3 wheels, or championship-winning drives like his 2020 Istanbul win.
Clearly, Ricciardo no longer fits the description, so it’s no surprise that the environment at Red Bull eventually become unfavorable for him.
Will the McLaren drive be any different from Red Bull?
To win a driver’s championship, it helps a lot if your team considers you their number one driver. But let’s face it, teams often struggle to choose. Ferrari in 2019 is a perfect example of a recent teammate face-off that wreaked havoc.
Mercedes in 2016 was another bitter culmination of a teammate battle, albeit one that many fans found quite entertaining.
Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl have led one of the most impressive comebacks for a once top team that had sadly slid down the pecking order. They have a brand of leadership that seems to properly blend aggression, composure and generally good vibes.
With the massive gains they’ve made in recent years, it’s not a stretch to say that they just might have a car that can contend for race wins come 2022.
And if the new regulations live up to the hype immediately, a much closer field will mean that a car capable of a few race wins can suddenly compete for the championship, especially when those ahead slip up.
With Lando Norris in his best shape ever, striking an adequate balance between qualifying, race pace, race craft, and overall consistency, he’s arguably the number one driver at McLaren.
This may not seem that obvious, but that’s only because the stakes are no higher than 3rd in the constructors’ championship for McLaren at the moment. Once the championship is within reach, whichever driver has been doing much better just might be favored by the team.
Ricciardo’s abilities are not in doubt, but just like with Renault, he’s proving to be one of those drivers that take longer to settle into a new car, unlike Carlos Sainz.
Norris has a head-start in the campaign for number one drive, and doesn’t look like he’ll be yielding the lead anytime soon. I want to see Norris win the championship at some point, but he still has time.
For now, if it’s not Hamilton, I’d like to see Ricciardo in it. I want to see just how much of his bubbliness he can maintain while neck-deep in a championship battle, how much later he can brake, whether he can overtake four cars into a corner to top the triple overtake in Baku, and generally how much more he can offer when there’s a lot more at stake.
There are many drivers we can admit are good. I mean, there’s only 20 at the pinnacle of motorsport currently, so they are all worth some respect. However, only a few have a wholesomeness that gets you so emotionally invested in their success, and Ricciardo is one of them.
For me, 7 was enough for Hamilton, he has nothing left to prove (whether you agree or not), and while I don’t mind him going for more and putting on a show while at it, I’d rather he leaves while the crowd is still cheering.
Ricciardo’s championship hopes seem to be slipping further away with each day that goes by, but I remain faithful that he’ll get one more chance to fight for the top honors, and whether he excels or buckles, I’ll feel gratified to have witnessed it.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.