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Ricciardo: I want to partner Lewis in his prime

From ESPN - October 20, 2017

By the time the F1 calendar ticks over into 2018 winter testing and the Australian Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo is going to be the hottest commodity on the grid. The Australian -- easy-going off the race track, phenomenally quick on it -- will be in a contract year at a time Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren are all likely to be facing big decisions about their line-ups for the following year.

ESPN was given five minutes to catch up with the Australian in Austin and talk about why he feels more comfortable than ever now his destiny is in his own hands.

Daniel, Max Verstappen has a new deal at Red Bull but it's looking increasingly like you are going to be the star of 2018 Silly Season. Is that still the plan, to wait until next season to decide what you are doing?

Yeah, definitely. His announcement has come really early as far as that all goes, because he was already contracted next year -- he's done it early. I guess they did not need to do it that early, but he has and that's that. Normally in the past people have not pulled the trigger that soon, so the only surprise is the timing, but I am not surprised he's stayed on because I know he likes the team a lot.

For me, no announcement is going to come any time soon, I think I have got time on my side to see how everything shapes up. It gives me time to not only focus on the end of this season but also the beginning of next year, put some emphasis on that. That's kinda where my head's at at the moment.

For the majority of your career, Red Bull has been in control of your next step -- whether it be which junior category to move up to or which team to join. This is the first time the ball has been in your court....

It's unique, definitely, something I have never experienced before. I am kind of excited to see how it may play out, or how it may not. It's something new for me and something exciting, but I will do it the right way in terms of what talks I have -- I will be respectful and see where it ends up.

The positive with Max staying on is that it shows him and his team, him and his management, have a commitment to the team and see a good future with Red Bull. That's encouraging for me next year knowing we have a pretty good foundation for next year. That's why I will take my time next year and see how the start of next year goes.

Max is only in his second year, you are coming to the end of your fourth -- it's fair to say each of those have fallen short of pre-season expectations. Is it still the case that the RB14 will determine your future?

I think so, yeah. If I can be in fast car, if I can be with a top team, that's the criteria. That would be the biggest thing. As far as the outside things goes with Red Bull -- I like the brand a lot and obviously I like the team a lot. We have always been a good fit for each other so from that side it's all been really good. But for sure the performance is the number one box to tick.

You drove against a four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, when you joined Red Bull, and now you are up against a man many think is a future world champion in Max Verstappen. The logical move everyone is talking about is Mercedes and 2019 -- presumably alongside Lewis Hamilton. Is he the ultimate yardstick to test yourself against?

Yes, absolutely. Forgetting the situation that he's at Mercedes, taking teams out of it... just putting drivers, absolutely. I have said for a long time [Fernando] Alonso or Lewis would be the guys I'd love to see myself against. Alonso's getting towards the tail of his career so Lewis at the moment is more desirable for me to go up against. So I would like that.

Obviously I had the chance with Seb, I have had it with Max and I am going to have it again with Max for at least one more year. But while Lewis is in his prime I would like to challenge [him] and see...

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