Ricciardo has much to ponder as he considers Red Bull future

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Daniel Ricciardo’s season ended with him trundling off the track during Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a hydraulic failure causing a third retirement in four races.

It was a frustrating finale to a topsy-turvy year that saw him finish fifth in the Formula One standings, and included a purple patch of five straight podium finishes between May and July.

Away from the track, the 28-year-old Australian has a lot of thinking to do over his future at Red Bull.

His contract expires at the end of 2018. Teammate Max Verstappen recently signed a new deal until the end of 2020, but Ricciardo has yet to commit even though the team wants him to stay.

“The peak years of my career are probably the next deal I’ll sign,” he said. “I want to make sure I maximize that with my driving ability.”

Ricciardo has won five races, all since joining Red Bull in 2014. That year, he won three races and finished a very impressive third overall.

He was considerably better than Sebastian Vettel, his teammate back then, who had clinched his fourth straight world title in 2013.

But now Verstappen is emerging as the team’s No. 1, and widely considered F1’s next star.

Verstappen turned 20 in September, but has already won three F1 races – two in the last six races of this season. Ricciardo has 27 career podiums while Verstappen – the youngest winner of a race at 18 years old – already has 11.

Verstappen hefty new contract shows how valuable the Dutchman is, even though the team has not officially designated a No. 1 driver.

This puts Ricciardo is in a delicate position.

Given his considerable talent and consistency, he does not want to spend the next three years as – potentially – a No. 2 behind Verstappen. It would possibly cause tension within the team and pressure a relationship that is harmonious enough, despite some flashpoints.

“I’m sure there will be a few discussions in the next week or two, especially with the team,” Ricciardo said. “It’s not about the offer, it’s about who is going to have the best car for 2019.”

Ricciardo, who won the Azerbaijan GP in June, has given himself a loose timescale.

“Once I get home and over Christmas, I want to switch off from racing,” he said. “I would like to know something earlier.”

He has the luxury of being an established driver at Red Bull, so a move away comes with risk.

“I don’t want to be too clever and hope I have every option possible,” said Ricciardo, who expects his next deal to be “a multiple-year.”

One possibility could be waiting to see what happens at Ferrari and Mercedes.

Kimi Raikkonen will be 39 at the end of next season and unlikely to get another year with Ferrari. He was fourth in the standings but the Finnish driver was 100 points behind Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and 112 points behind his own teammate Vettel, second overall.

Bottas has a one-year deal with Mercedes for next season, alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton.

If Bottas fails to impress, there could be an opening in 2019.

On either team, Ricciardo would be up against four-time F1 champions in Hamilton and Vettel, and would not be the leading driver.

When he sat alongside them both at a pre-race news conference last Thursday, Ricciardo joked that the three of them shared eight F1 titles between them. Clearly, he dreams of belonging in such elite company.

But, for now, perhaps challenging Verstappen is his best option.

“It would be a good problem to have, if we’re both fighting at the front and having some battles,” Ricciardo said. “If it’s ultimately deciding a world title we would happily run with that challenge.”

But Red Bull’s marked increase in speed is a cause for optimism next year – providing Red Bull can iron out reliability issues that saw Ricciardo fail to finish six races and Verstappen seven.

“I believe next year we will close the gap. Is it enough to fight for a title?” Ricciardo said. “I think we can certainly get close.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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