Aussie Mr Nice Guy in for the kill
DANIEL Ricciardo is a nice guy but he doesn't want that to define him. After all, nice guys finish last.
The popular Aussie has the broadest grin in motorsport and more often than not has every reason to flash his pearly whites.
He finished third in the Formula One drivers' championship in 2016 behind Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton and with the retired German out of contention in 2017, he'll be hoping to finish even higher on the podium come season's end.
Ricciardo's already earnt the respect of those on the F1 circuit. But to seriously challenge for a world title he'll need a powerful car and a kill-or-be-killed mentality.
He's always been driven to succeed but he had to prove that to everyone else when all they may have seen was an innocent soul beneath a cheeky smile.
When the 27-year-old arrived at Red Bull in 2014 from junior team Toro Rosso, there was one tag he was desperate to shake.
"When I came into Red Bull, everyone thought, 'He's just the happy, nice guy. He's fast but he can't race hard with these top guys,'" he told The Guardian. "That was a reputation I had to dismiss.
"People have seen now I am a racer and I have big intentions in the sport and I am prepared to get my shoulders out if I need to."
He finished third in a breakthrough 2014, showing he had what it took to mix it with the top dogs in the sport.
He finished eighth behind teammate Daniil Kvyat in a disappointing 2015 campaign before roaring back to life.
Despite some mishaps, most notably in Barcelona and Monaco where team tactics and a pit stop debacle crushed any hopes of victory, a win in Malaysia went a way towards rectifying previous mistakes.
Ricciardo was joined in 2016 by Max Verstappen, who finished fifth in the drivers' championship.
In F1 your teammate can often be your biggest rival, and it's no different for Ricciardo.
He'll be aiming to show the teenage Verstappen who is the No.1 driver at Red Bull.
"If Lewis beats me in a Mercedes, I can tell the world he beat me because his car is better," Ricciardo said.
"But if Max beats me every race I am going to run out of excuses, so certainly your teammate is the number one person you want to beat."
But Ricciardo realises working closely together would benefit them both.
"We've been on six dinners already this week. He brought me breakfast yesterday morning. We don't share a room ... not yet,'' he quipped. "We try to keep it as amicable as possible.
"We both want to win, we both want to beat each other and at the same time we've also got a team that is trying to build fast race cars. They rely on us to not only push the car but to give feedback and to push the technology.
"Two heads are better than one and we understand that we are only helping ourselves if we help each other because the car is going to be faster and give us a better chance to win.''
Mercedes has dominated F1 in recent times while the rest of the teams play for second.
Ricciardo however believes Red Bull are less than half a second off the pace.
"Sunday 4pm, lights are going to go out and we're going to race and hopefully we're going to go well,'' he said. "Testing is never really a clear picture. I expect Ferrari and Mercedes to be quick and I hope we can be with them as well.''
While the ultimate aim is to become world champion, his goal right now is simply for him and his vehicle to perform at their absolute best.
"I kind of learned a few years ago that (while) you want to win every race, no one has ever done that, so you have got to expect to not always win,'' Ricciardo said.
"It's my target to be world champion. I'll do what I can to make it happen this year, but I'm not expecting it to happen.
"Last year I didn't win the title but I was still very happy with the year. I felt I did well ... got my first pole and got back on the top step.
"For me to perform at my best I think I would be happy. But I would be very happy with the world title, too.''