‘Second best’: Ricciardo opens up on ex MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 11: Second place finisher Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks with third place finisher Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and McLaren F1 in parc ferme during the Sprint ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 11, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

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Max Verstappen is locked in a heated championship battle with Lewis Hamilton but Daniel Ricciardo is of no doubt who the best is.

Aussie F1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo has opened up on his rivalry and friendship with championship contender Max Verstappen in the most Daniel Ricciardo-way possible.

The 32-year-old has been around the F1 for a long time now and continues to be one of the biggest personalities on the grid.

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But while Ricciardo has been a championship contender, finishing third in both 2014 and 2016 while driving for Red Bull, he has never quite gotten over the hump to truly push to be world champion.

And since leaving Red Bull at the end of the 2019 season, Ricciardo has been trapped in the midfield with Renault and now McLaren.

In his first season with McLaren, Ricciardo has at times struggled to handle his new car, although he did claim the eighth win of his F1 career at Monza.

Ricciardo’s exit from Red Bull has often been linked to the rise of Max Verstappen as the team appeared to prioritise the young Dutchman in a bid to make him the youngest F1 champion in history — an honour he now can’t achieve as he is 24 — as Ricciardo suffered eight retirement in his final season at the team.

Since separating at the end of 2018, Ricciardo and Verstappen have become great friends, challenging Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in the bromance stakes.

But despite not landing the same results Verstappen and sitting 246.5 points behind the Dutchman on the driver standings, Ricciardo is of no doubt who the better driver is.

“Until the day I stop … I’ll always believe I’m the best. I think the day I stop will be the day that I no longer believe I’m the best driver,” Ricciardo joked in an interview with RacingNews365.

“Is Max the second best? Probably! Probably!”

More seriously, Ricciardo believes Verstappen will one day claim the world championship, whether this season or in the future.

Verstappen is currently just eight points ahead of a resurgent Lewis Hamilton in the closest battle for the championship in years.

Ahead of the penultimate Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, a Hamilton first and fastest lap ahead of a second placed Verstappen would see the pair go into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on equal points.

“If it’s not this year, I think it’s inevitable that he wins a world title,” Ricciardo said. “Not to say that it’s an easy thing to achieve, but I think he has all the traits to do it.

“Also his racecraft is good, I like that he goes for gaps. I see a lot of similarities in the way he goes about racing, so that I can certainly respect.”

Ricciardo also praised Verstappen’s “lack of fear” and said it was much better to get along now they’re on opposing teams.

“As a person, I really like Max. For sure, it’s been probably easier to get on with each other post-teammates, because we don’t have that head-to-head, as you’d call it,” Ricciardo said.

“But I think also he’s matured, you know, so I like the way he goes about his business as well. We are quite different, but I think he’s very true to his word, (there’s) not much bulls*** that goes on. I definitely like him and respect him for that.

“As a driver, look, I remember his very first practice session in Barcelona, when he got into Red Bull, and he was on it straight away. I remember seeing the data and I was like, ‘OK, he’s not messing around’.

“I think he has that speed, that raw speed, that lack of fear. Now he’s got that maturity to really make him a top, top, top tier (driver).”

And despite all the talk of Verstappen getting favourable treatment when the pair teamed up at Red Bull, Ricciardo denied there was a schism in the team.

He pointed to on-track incidents, including the infamous 2018 Baku crash, as signs of how hard they fought it out on the track. But he added that it was “never hostile” in debriefs and “there weren’t any kind of secrets”.

He also said it was equal equipment, although conceding “I didn’t feel was equal in some situations – Baku being the biggest one”.

Ricciardo was blamed for the crash that saw both men taken out of the race.

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