THEY have been team-mates at Red Bull, but Daniel Ricciardo describes Max Verstappen as a “baby”. PETER COSTER reports on the latest twists and turns in on the GP circuit:
WHAT did Daniel Ricciardo mean when in an interview before the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, he laughed and said Max Verstappen was “a baby”. He repeated it. “He’s a baby,” he told former British driver Paul di Resta.
Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate is only 20. He was the youngest driver to enter Formula One when he started racing at the age of 17.
But was Ricciardo, who is going to Renault next year, referring to Verstappen’s dummy spits?
The Dutch wunderkind, who turns 21 at the Russian Grand Prix at the end of the month, spat the dummy at Monza when he was told he had incurred a five-second penalty for nudging Valtteri Bottas off the track as the Mercedes driver tried to pass him under braking.
It’s not the first time Verstappen has done it. The last time was when he shifted right and then left in front of Ricciardo at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April.
The Australian had nowhere to go and crashed into the back of Verstappen’s car.
It was clearly Verstappen’s fault, but Red Bull has always been overly indulgent with the Dutch teenager and demanded Ricciardo also apologise for the shunt.
At Monza, Verstappen blamed everyone but himself. He said Bottas was responsible when the Mercedes driver was clearly pushed off the track as he was about to take third place from Verstappen.
In a tantrum during the race Verstappen blamed the stewards. He said they were “doing a great job killing racing”.
One of the things that makes Verstappen a great driver so early in his F1 career is his aggression.
He is a hard charger who will go where other drivers fear to go, mainly because they know it will lead to a collision that will put them and whoever they hit out of the race.
After the penalty at Monza, Verstappen was told on the radio not to “worry about it and get your head down”.
His response was to shout, “Don’t worry about it?” Followed by the usual expletive delivered in frustrating situations.
More worrying for Verstappen now that Ricciardo is to drive for Renault is what will happen next year when the Red Bulls are powered by Honda engines.
Sebastian Vettel won his four world championships over successive years at Red Bull with Renault engines.
That dominance disappeared as Mercedes and now Ferrari developed a clear horsepower advantage over the Renault-engined cars.
McLaren dropped Honda this year, changing to Renault but with little improvement.
Honda went to Red Bull’s Toro Rosso junior team and will power Red Bull from next year
Daniel Ricciardo will line up with Renault for the first time at the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in March.
Renault’s current No. 1, Nico Hulkenberg, has failed to win a Grand Prix for Renault or a place on the podium.
Second driver Carlos Sainz will go to McLaren to replace former double-world champion Fernando Alonso who is leaving F1 in disgust.
Ricciardo will have the full resources of the Renault works team behind him and knows he can do better, but Renault F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has warned him he cannot expect to win a world championship for at least two years.
Did the warning come before Ricciardo signed with the French manufacturer?
While that may be unlikely, Ricciardo has other reasons to leave Red Bull. In a word, Verstappen.
Ricciardo has clearly outpointed Verstappen at Red Bull, winning at Monaco this year in a failing car. It showed not only mastery, but maturity.
Ricciardo has won seven GPs for Red Bull, three of them in his first year in 2014.
Verstappen has won four since he started with Red Bull at the Australian Grand Pix in Melbourne in 2016.
Ricciardo has been on the podium 29 times and Verstappen 16. But the Australian feels Red Bull favours Verstappen, much as Red Bull favoured Sebastian Vettel over Mark Webber before Webber was replaced by Ricciardo.
The clearest indication came when Red Bull principal Christian Horner said Red Bull looked to build its future around Verstappen.
Ricciardo turns 30 next July and knows his next few years are crucial. He is acknowledged by other drivers as the best overtaker in Formula One, but will Renault be able to provide him with the car he needs to win a world driver’s championship?
Verstappen faces the same problem with Red Bull switching to Honda, but more because of issues with the engine supplier than choice.
While Ricciardo may soon become frustrated at Renault, Max Verstappen reportedly has an option to pull out of his contract with Red Bull.
if the Honda engines don’t come up to expectation. Whose expectation is unsure at the moment.
Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly, who is joining Verstappen at Red Bull next year, was able to hold off the Ferrari-engined Sauber of Marcus Ericsson at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
It showed some progression. The Frenchman said he is looking forward to an even better performance next season.
Ricciardo, who was forced to start at the rear of the grid at Monza because of engine replacement penalties, may be starting to wonder if he has made the right move.
He has a chance of winning the Singapore Grand Prix on September 16 if the issues that put him out of the Monza race do not relegate him to the back of the grid once more.
The joy that saw him belly flop into the Red Bull swimming pool in his sweat-soaked racing suit when he won at Monaco in May is but a memory
Author: Peter Coster
PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.