"If you want to be successful at anything in life the primary thing is you have to enjoy it”. Those were the words of the ever-smiling Daniel Ricciardo as he reflected on his breakthrough 2014 season with Red Bull Racing - a season which saw the affable Australian not only win his first Grand Prix (and two more) but also leave four-time world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel trailing in his wake.
Born in Perth in 1989, Ricciardo started karting aged just nine after finding a hero in Ayrton Senna. After working his way through the go-kart ranks, in 2005 he entered the Australian Formula Ford series and, although driving an uncompetitive car, made enough of an impression to secure a scholarship for the following season’s Formula BMW Asia championship.
Claiming two wins and 10 podiums in his debut Formula BMW campaign with the Eurasia team, Ricciardo made an instant impression and finished third in the championship. He also enjoyed an outing in the British Formula BMW series, taking three points from two races, and another outing at the end-of-year World Finals, where he finished fifth.
In 2007 he switched to Italian Formula Renault, ending the season sixth, scoring a solitary podium in Valencia. And although he gleaned nothing from four additional outings in the European championship that year, he was determined to do better in 2008 and signed up for a second European season, alongside a ride in the Formula Renault Western European Cup. The latter brought him his first sporting title, thanks to eight wins from 15 races.
Already a signed-up member of the Red Bull junior team, Ricciardo progressed to the prestigious British Formula Three championship in 2009 and set about proving that his Formula Renault success wasn’t a one off. Six poles and six wins later - and with two rounds still to run - he won his second championship in as many years.
When he wasn’t winning F3 races, Ricciardo was hard at work on the F1 simulator at Red Bull’s UK Milton Keynes headquarters, or helping the team’s test engineers at straight-line test days. At the end of the year he was invited to drive for Red Bull at the young driver test and didn’t disappoint, leaving Spain at the top of the timesheets.
This pace and his excellent feedback helped secure him the Red Bull reserve role for 2010 and although he was never required as a race stand-in, he did secure a second successive outing in the end-of-year young driver test. Just as importantly he further honed his race skills in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, winning four races and finishing second in the 2010 standings.
He stayed to compete in Formula Renault for a second season in 2011, and his Formula One career also took a step forward as he became the regular third driver for the Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso team. After putting in some impressive Friday practice appearances at each of the season’s first eight Grands Prix, there was growing speculation he was being lined up to replace either Sebastien Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari in a Toro Rosso race seat.
But in the build-up to July’s British Grand Prix it was announced he was to make his F1 race debut with Spanish team HRT, who had signed a collaborative deal with Red Bull to support Ricciardo’s ‘formation and development’ ahead of a potential future race seat with one of Red Bull’s own teams. That team turned out to be Toro Rosso, who signed him for 2012 after some strong showings for HRT alongside former STR racer Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Paired with rookie team mate Jean-Eric Vergne, Ricciardo used his superior experience to out-qualify the Frenchman 16-4 over the course of 2012 and to score points at twice as many races. The duo continued their intra-team rivalry in 2013, with Ricciardo again prevailing, his growing speed and maturity helping him land a 2014 race seat at sister team and reigning world champions Red Bull.
What happened next no-one - Ricciardo included - had predicted. While Sebastian Vettel struggled to get to grips with 2014’s new generation of hybrid machinery, his new team mate made the transition with ease. By the season’s end he had won three races and established himself as the new de facto number one at Red Bull, and with Vettel subsequently defecting to Ferrari, the Australian became their real team leader for 2015.
Unfortunately for Ricciardo he was unable to turn that momentum into a much hoped for title charge as, hamstrung primarily by a lack of power and reliability, Red Bull slipped down the competitive order. A pair of podium finishes - both coming after typically exceptional drives in Hungary and Singapore - were the pinnacle of his achievements in an otherwise frustrating campaign.