The Honey Badger
Daniel Ricciardo has lived up to his nickname 'The Honey Badger' ever since he was a youngster. Sweet and gentle when you look at him, but if you invade its territory, you have to make a run for it. From his time in Formula Renault, Ricciardo began to put himself on the map. In 2007, only Valtteri Bottas managed to beat him in the Formula Renault championship.
Just one year later, he made the switch to Formula 3. Ricciardo won the British Formula 3 title in 2009 and was able to take a seat in the Red Bull F1 car that season, albeit only during a test designated to young drivers.
In those few days at Jerez, the Honey Badger outpaced all competitors and was hired as Toro Rosso's (and Red Bull Racing's) test and reserve driver for the 2010 season. A task the Australian would undertake that year alongside New Zealander Brendon Hartley, although the latter was dropped from Red Bull's programme later in the season.
Arrival in the premier class
As Toro Rosso's only remaining test driver, Ricciardo had been given every opportunity to prove himself. Every time he gets behind the wheel of the Toro Rosso car, he managed to set a better time than the team's more experienced drivers. Those results didn’t go unrewarded: Ricciardo got a race seat at HRT in the 2011 Formula 1 season, albeit for just a few races.
Gaining that experience proved crucial, as he took his place in the Toro Rosso car a year later. After weighing up all the options, Helmut Marko decided to choose the young Ricciardo alongside Jean-Eric Vergne. In the opening race of that season (also Ricciardo's home race) the Honey Badger scored his first championship points. With several points finishes in his debut year, Ricciardo is assured of another year in Formula 1.
Advance to the top
With the departure of Mark Webber from Red Bull Racing at the end of 2013, it was up to Vergne and Ricciardo to show who was the best candidate to take the spot next to Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo made the most of the opportunity and was allowed to move up, while Vergne fell into a negative spiral from then on.
In 2014, Ricciardo stood on the top step of the podium for the first time, when the Australian didn't give up in Canada. Later in the season, he also took the win in Hungary, putting his teammate (and four-time world champion) Sebastian Vettel in his shadow. At the end of the season, Vettel left for Ferrari and Red Bull junior Daniil Kvyat came to sit alongside Ricciardo.
The RB11 not only had to outperform Ferrari and Mercedes in 2015, but Williams also often outperformed the Austrian team. Renault's power unit was blamed on a regular basis, while the not-quite-awesome Daniil Kvyat also got criticism. Yet the Ricciardo-Kvyat duo remained intact for the start of 2016, albeit only for a few races.
Challenged by Max Verstappen
After four races in 2016, changes were made: Daniil Kvyat was replaced by Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen and the Dutchman would take his seat in the RB12 as early as Barcelona. A race that the then 18-year-old young talent would win immediately, leaving Daniel Ricciardo to fight again to showcase his talent.
Sebastian Vettel was easily beaten, as was Kvyat. Verstappen was cut from a different cloth and managed to get extremely close to his teammate in his first season. The difference was just 52 points at the end of the season, despite Verstappen driving four races for Toro Rosso.
In 2017, Ricciardo and Verstappen were evenly matched, but the RB13 proved anything but reliable. In the first half of the season, it was Verstappen who received a string of DNFs behind his name; after the summer break, the bad luck ball came to sit on Ricciardo's shoulder. Despite all the misery, Ricciardo still managed to win in Baku and finished on the podium a total of eight times.
Ricciardo leaves for Renault
This comes to an end in 2018. Despite a good start to the season, fate strikes bizarrely fast for Ricciardo. Eight times, the Australian failed to reach the finish line, only one of which was due to a crash that perhaps could have been prevented. When Red Bull also announced during the season that they would be switching to Honda engines from 2019, it was a matter of time before the end of the season.
Ricciardo leaves for Renault
Despite a good start to the season, fate strook bizarrely fast for Ricciardo. Eight times the Australian failed to reach the finish line, only one of which was due to a crash that could have been prevented. When Red Bull also announced during the season that they were switching to Honda engines from 2019, Ricciardo began to doubt his future.
Max Verstappen has the best future prospects within the team and the Honda engine wasn’t very reliable (or powerful) at that point. At the start of the summer break, the multiple Grand Prix winner comes up with a decision: 'I'm switching to Renault in 2019.'
It didn’t turn out to be a masterstroke. Renault still started reasonably positively as 'best of the rest', but soon Renault's big talk turned out not to be true. Even the customer team McLaren is better and Ricciardo seems to have chosen the wrong option.
After a fifth place among the constructors in 2019, 2020 doesn't seem to start much better for Ricciardo. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg has also been replaced by Esteban Ocon and the man from Perth will have to make the most of the opportunity on his own. In the second half of the season, he succeeded more often and was rewarded with two podiums.
Ricciardo overshadowed by Norris at McLaren
Those podiums did him good and he finished a neat fifth in the battle for the world title. However, the decision to drive for McLaren in 2021 was long since been made, and Ricciardo joined the young Lando Norris at the team from Woking. McLaren also switched to Mercedes engines.
The new start at McLaren was harder than expected for Ricciardo. In the first half of the season he was overshadowed by Norris, who drastically changed his approach in races. Yet it was the Australian who won the Italian Grand Prix by making the most of the crash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Ricciardo continued to climb up the order.
Daniel Ricciardo in 2023
Even the new 2022 Formula 1 cars did not prove to be the solution for Ricciardo. He continued to struggle with his McLaren and the team decided mid-season to end the Australian's contract one year early. The buyout fee was something the British racing team were happy to spare to pave the way for young talent Oscar Piastri, who will make his debut in 2023.
Ricciardo is without a permanent F1 seat in 2023, but is targeting a return to the grid in 2024. He saw his best chance of achieving that in a return to Red Bull Racing, albeit as a third driver. This way, Ricciardo will stay closely involved in F1 and also have time to come to his senses after two tough years at McLaren.