Hits keep coming for Daniel Ricciardo
All Daniel Ricciardo wants - and all he's ever wanted since dedicating his life to a career in F1 - is a world title.
But just as a team finally looks like it can at least challenge Mercedes' run of five consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships - and push Ferrari all the way too - the Aussie star finds himself in the midfield wilderness.
Ricciardo quit Red Bull to join Renault this year but so far his former team is the one that's been winning all the plaudits and generating headlines. Since abandoning Renault power to use Honda engines, Red Bull has become the talk of the paddock.
Max Verstappen was excellent to run third at the Australian Grand Prix behind the two Silver Arrows of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton and his impressive performance was largely due to the much-improved Honda power unit, which in its first official outing for Red Bull, was a huge step up from the unreliable Renault engines the energy drink team has been using in recent years.
Verstappen's brilliant overtake of Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was testament to the increased oomph Red Bull boasted at Albert Park and while it's still very early days and Honda has asked for patience, Ricciardo's ex-employer is on everyone's radar as a genuine title contender.
It's just a pity the West Australian's fortunes are no longer tied to the emerging threat. In contrast to the hype about Red Bull's title chances, Ricciardo suffered a horror start to the year when he retired 32 laps into his first drive for Renault after ripping his front wing off just seconds into the race.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is certainly wary of Red Bull after it showed off its "enormous" Honda power in Melbourne, according to motorsport.com.
"We saw how they've eaten up Sebastian into Turn 3," Wolff said in reference to Verstappen overtaking Vettel.
"Power was enormous, and seeing them (Honda) come back strong makes me happy because it's a good group or people and they're really decent men.
"The combination with Red Bull will certainly become a threat. The level of performance is such that you must certainly have them in the calculation for the championship."
Wolff's comments echo the belief put forward by his star driver Hamilton, who ran second to teammate Bottas in the season-opening grand prix.
"It's great to see the improvement that it's had for the team," Hamilton said last week of Honda's influence on Red Bull.
"They were with Renault for such a long time and he (Verstappen) was able to pass the Ferrari. It's awesome.
"The Red Bulls are there with us and I think we're going to have a really great battle through the year between the three of us (Ferrari included)."
The podium result was certainly a welcome boost for a Honda outfit which has been much-maligned since returning to F1 with McLaren in 2014. Verstappen's finish meant a lot to Red Bull's new partner as engineers cried with joy while they celebrated a first top-three finish since 2008.
The Japanese manufacturer endured three reliability-plagued years with McLaren, with a best-placed finish of fifth, before linking up with Toro Rosso last season and then securing a Red Bull deal for 2019.
"The Honda has certainly made a huge step forward," Wolff said. "If you look at the speed trace it looks a different Red Bull than before. They are very fast on the straights and that's good to see.
"We want them in the mix and we want to have a great fight."
They're hardly words Ricciardo will want to hear after ditching Red Bull because he couldn't afford to tread water any longer after some middling years with the team. He's said previously if the Honda gamble didn't pay off and he stayed with Red Bull he would have regretted it, so he opted for a fresh start.
Ricciardo knows he's no chance of winning a world title in the two-year time frame he's committed himself to Renault, and there's been speculation he's biding time until Mercedes or Ferrari come calling for a new driver in a couple of years, which would certainly see his chances of championship glory skyrocket.
But all the noise from Mercedes about Red Bull and Honda's massive improvement - after Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Verstappen heaped praise on the new engine in Melbourne - is hardly going to help Ricciardo sleep easily at night wondering whether he made the right decision to walk away.
With Matt Morlidge and James Galloway, Sky Sports