Daniel Ricciardo has surpassed the expectations of many in terms of his performances since moving to Red Bull Racing, but the biggest challenge of his season is yet to come.
Few anticipated that the Australian would match up to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel early in the season, but getting to grips with the latest breed of F1 car has helped Ricciardo to present viable opposition to his immediate benchmark, if not necessarily the Mercedes duo at the head of the field. Excluded from a podium finish in his homeland, Ricciardo finally got his hands on some silverware in Spain last weekend, building on back-to-back fourth places to move to within six point of Vettel in the overall standings.
Perhaps the biggest test, however, will be to carry his form into the toughest race of the season, with the Monaco Grand Prix on the slate next weekend. A double winner in the Principality in World Series by Renault, Ricciardo has yet to see the chequered flag in two grands prix, and knows that he may have to adopt a different mindset this season.
“In Monte Carlo, it's impossible to do that calm, detached racing driver thing,” he explains, “Every year I'm determined I'm going to approach the weekend in a coldly logical way, and every year I end up bouncing up and down and getting excited. It's just amazing!
“The atmosphere in town and down at the harbour, the history of the race, the massive crowd, it's a real buzz. The track is properly old-school. Driving an F1 car anywhere is special – the speed, the power and the acceleration just blows you away – but here it's... cool.”
While the atmosphere is like no other race, neither is the task ahead of the drivers, but Ricciardo says he thrives on the challenge of street racing.
“I know there's that quote about racing at Monaco being like riding a bicycle around your bathroom – well, when I was a kid, I used to love riding my little bike around inside the house,” he says with that trademark smile wider than ever, “It was more fun, there were more obstacles and a bit more danger. That really is what this is like. Experience definitely helps: the driver can make a big difference if he knows the tricks that a fast lap demands...”