Formula 1

Daniel Ricciardo can lead the Red Bull revolution

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As Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg stole most of the headlines in 2014 only one man really joined them in the spotlight.

Daniel Ricciardo came to Red Bull with a huge mountain to climb partnering a four-time world champion fresh off of nine straight wins to close the 2013 season and ultimately driving his team-mate Mark Webber out of relevancy.

Most thought how a guy who was good in qualifying but rarely sparkled in the races was going to compete at a team designed around a man with the invincibility of Sebastian Vettel.

Another Vettel tea boy

It seemed like Ricciardo would be another lamb to the slaughter made to be the tea boy for the imperious German.

The outlook probably wasn't helped by the fact most saw Ricciardo as a softy, all smiles, curly hair and with a presence less threatening than Father Christmas (its that time of year I guess).

So when he turned up for his first race at Red Bull at his home Grand Prix in Australia, no-one could have foreseen the year that was to come.

Bursting on the scene

Setting the Melbourne crowd alight in a dark rainy qualifying, Ricciardo took a car most thought barely stood a chance after pre-season testing and nearly stole Mercedes' thunder taking an incredible second place just behind Nico Rosberg.

OK, most thought, but lets see how he does on Sunday. Well in a car that hadn't even completed a race distance in testing Ricciardo showed he could hang in over 300 kilometres taking second place and leaving everyone at Albert Park buzzing.

There was of course the major disappointment after the race when he was disqualified as his car was deemed to have broken fuel flow limits but Ricciardo had made it clear, he was here to fight.

By season's end the man from Perth had secured third in the Drivers' championship, 71 points clear of a now departing Vettel, and had the distinction of being the only driver not in a Mercedes to have won a race in 2014, doing so three times in Canada, Hungary and Belgium.

Red Bull's new leader

Now, looking to 2015, Red Bull is his team, he is the one expected to lead the Anglo-Austrian crusade particularly alongside a young whipper-snapper in 20-year-old Daniil Kvyat.

Longer term, however, it is more difficult to predict Daniel Ricciardo's future as a Red Bull driver Amassing the success that the man he beat achieved is impossible and it is obvious competition from those in the young driver program is rising all the time. So what can he achieve at Milton Keynes?

One thing that I think most will agree is Ricciardo can be a future world champion, from the soft smiley persona came an aggressive, relentless attitude that earned him the nickname of the 'honey badger'.

Just another team

But now Red Bull is entering a different stage in its eleventh year in the sport, no longer is it the dominant force with the driver no-one could match, I don't agree with those who say it will now endure a Ferrari-style decline post-Vettel but it is now just another front running team trying to topple the new kings at Mercedes.

Can Renault, the main reason for its inability to match the Silver Arrows, solve their issues and close the massive performance gap and can those at the factory still produce an aerodynamically superior car without the full commitment of design genius Adrian Newey?

Maybe Red Bull don't need the aerodynamic dependence they had with Vettel and could head more in the Williams direction to try and make up for some of Renault's deficit in a straight line, either way when the RB11 is launched it needs to be every bit as good as its predecessors.

Ricciardo must keep improving

Then what about Ricciardo himself, the first season could be considered close to a fairytale but now its on him to lead Red Bull, the four-time Constructors' champions, can he handle that pressure and continue to improve because make no mistake standing still in F1 is never ever good enough.

Can he meet what will still be incredibly high expectations because after all, while it may have a new challenge that convinced Vettel to join Ferrari if the German hadn't raised his game again Red Bull would have looked at their options regardless of whether he had won them four world titles.

Ruthless Red Bull

And that brings me on to the main point I have, given the model Red Bull operate, with all of its drivers coming from its own stable, will Ricciardo be a long term option for Dr Helmut Marko and Christian Horner.

Look at how Jean-Eric Vergne was dumped from Toro Rosso much like Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari had been three years prior, Vergne was not a bad driver far from it but if there is someone who the bosses think could offer more then would Ricciardo be turfed out in a similar fashion?

In 2014, Ricciardo certainly surpassed all expectations and establishing himself as one of F1's top drivers, most often wonder how it would have played out if his car had been on a similar level to Mercedes, but what if Carlos Sainz Jr. or Max Verstappen start taking the sport by storm next year?

Ensuring stability crucial to success

I'm not suggesting Ricciardo should consider his options and leave when the going's good and I also doubt he would be dropped if he had a Vettel-esque dip in 2015, but given there will be two McLaren seats up for grabs in a few years, maybe Mercedes and Ferrari too, I wouldn't rule out a shock early departure like Vettel was at the end of this year.

Red Bull is not a team that goes on reputation, after all if it was them switching to Honda and choosing between Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen its pretty clear which way they would have gone, its either succeed or leave and to develop a long term career at the top of F1, racing in that environment is very difficult indeed.

So while for now its Daniel Ricciardo: Red Bull star, don't be surprised if when the Australian hangs up his helmet these few years were nothing more than a stepping stone to greater success elsewhere.

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