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.”

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

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