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.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”