Daniel Ricciardo has a big dose of respect for Max Verstappen, but the McLaren driver believes the feeling is mutual and has perhaps even grown given the struggles of those who succeeded the Aussie at Red Bull.
Verstappen and Ricciardo delivered nine wins to the Milton Keynes-based during their time together from 2016 to the end of 2018, and the partnership proved as successful as it was combative, with a few flashpoints for good measure, like in Baku in 2018.
As rivals racing under different colors today, the pair enjoy a healthy friendship off the track, a rapport and mutual respect certainly facilitated by the two drivers no longer sharing the same garage space in F1, but also perhaps enhanced by the fact that Ricciardo remains so far the only Red Bull driver to have matched the blindingly fast Verstappen.
"I think it’s easier now for me and Max to be friends for two reasons," Ricciardo explained in an interview with Square Mile.
"I think one is that obviously we’re not in direct competition – we’re not trying to basically end each other’s careers!
"The second point is that I think – I mean, of course, I won races with him as a teammate and got pole position so I think he always knew I was quick and respected me – but now, since I’ve left, the other drivers have come through and him having different teammates, I think it’s probably increased his respect for me even more.
"I mean we never hated each other, we just wanted to end each other’s careers! It’s as simple as that."
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner once suggested that Ricciardo's decision to leave Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season equated to the Aussie "running away from a fight".
Regardless of whether Ricciardo was wrong or right to move on, Horner likely knew that fielding an equally strong line-up after the later's would prove challenging.
And Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon's failure to deliver and properly fill the Honey Badger's seat confirmed that assumption, and emphatically endorsed Ricciardo's strength relative to Verstappen.
"I truthfully do believe Red Bull knew what they had with myself and Max," commented McLaren's new driver.
"They obviously knew we were top tier – and, yeah, maybe they were expecting to struggle a bit with who filled the seat after me.
"I don’t know, but I would say that those outside of the team maybe underestimated what Max and I did to each other, to push each other to that level. And yes, obviously, Pierre or Alex, couldn’t get on top of that. Or at least not soon enough."