Daniel Ricciardo will prioritise car performance above all else when it comes to negotiating his next contract in Formula One -- a decision that could dictate whether he achieves his goal of becoming a world champion.
Ricciardo has just one year remaining on his Red Bull contract after joining the drinks manufacturer in 2008 as a junior driver on his way up the motorsport ladder. For the first time in his career, he will be a free agent in 2019 and there is already speculation over where his next move will take him.
He has claimed five victories since joining the senior Red Bull team in 2014, but has not had a car capable of challenging for championships. Mercedes has dominated F1 during that same period, with Lewis Hamilton taking three of the four titles while Ferrari only emerged as a threat this year.
After starting the year on the back foot and struggling with reliability towards the end of the season, Red Bull is hoping to mount a sustained championship challenge in 2018. Ricciardo says he will wait to see where the team stands before making a decision on his future beyond next season.
"It's a big decision for me, so if I need to take time to make it, I will," he told Red Bull's website. "I'm planning on being in the sport for a long while yet, but in saying that, if I was to sign, say, a three-year deal, that's a big chunk of the next part of my career. I need to get it right, so it's a big call -- the most important one for me yet, I think. I'll take as much time as I need to. It's not going to be a distraction.
"I'm 29 next year and the next deal will take me into my 30s, so it's not like I'm the young unproven kid who'll sign anything just to get on the grid, or at the other end of my career when I'm hanging on and doing things year by year -- I don't ever want to get to that stage, I can't see myself being that guy.
"You look at Lewis and when he did his Mercedes deal, he was the same age as I am now if I remember correctly. He was already doing very well where he was, but his career has really taken off since then. So, there's a lot to consider."
Ricciardo is willing to prioritise car performance over the financial terms of his next contract and is looking forward to shaping his own destiny with his 2019 decision.
"You can get caught up in too many opinions with this, so I'll use some people close to me as a sounding board and kick it around with some friends just to have the conversation, but I don't like to have too many people getting involved. It has to come from me, I'm the one who has to live it. I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box, if you like. Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful -- races, championships -- that's the absolute priority. It's not even close.
"Being in the position to make the decision is something cool, something unusual, and something where I feel like I'll probably learn a lot. No matter what happens, it'll be a growing experience for me because it's something I've not been through. It'll be nice to stand on my own two feet and make some grown-up decisions. Maybe even act like an adult! It's all part of the evolution, I'm told ..."
Some of the most coveted drives in Formula One are already accounted for over the next few years, with Ricciardo's current Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen signing a contract extension through to 2020 earlier this year and Sebastian Vettel committed to Ferrari for the same amount of time. Hamilton's Mercedes contract will expire at the end of 2018 but the four-time world champion is currently in the process of agreeing a new deal for 2019 and beyond.