He may not be fighting for the World Championship as he expected this year, but the future's still bright for Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo. And it's easy to see why he's always smiling.
Make no mistake, this was meant to be his season, with F1's technical regulation revamp, designed to make the cars tougher to race physically, playing to his Red Bull Racing team's strength in aerodynamics.
Ricciardo was also in peak form, having been through brutal boot camps both in Perth and Los Angeles, to prepare himself for the additional g-forces.
"This year we emphasised a bit more on strength and on high-intensity training. Personally, I enjoyed it more," Ricciardo said.
"Yes, it's tougher but it's more rewarding. Mentally, you feel like you've achieved more afterwards. It's a challenge but after a session you feel complete."
Against the wind
But a correlation issue with the team's windtunnel meant that new parts going on the new car didn't give the expected performance on the track – leaving the team more than one second off the pace in Melbourne.
Incredibly, it took the team until June to right its windtunnel, which is used to analyse airflow over the car, and start producing effective update parts.
Ricciardo made the most of the situation – snatching an opportunistic win at a chaotic Azerbaijan GP, and five additional podiums from the first 13 races.
His young gun teammate, Max Verstappen, wasn't as lucky, though, with just a single podium in China and six retirements to show.
Red Bull Racing is now hell-bent on a strong comeback in the final seven races, with team principal Christian Horner setting an ambitious target of outscoring Ferrari – which has won four races with Sebastian Vettel so far this year, with the four-time World Champion three points adrift of the championship leader, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.
"That would be awesome," Ricciardo said.
"The way our second half of last season turned around, you would say he's not talking rubbish. But I think we're a bit further away from Ferrari than we were this time last year. So we've got a bit of a step to make."
Chasing flags in Singapore
That step is expected at next week's Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, which is celebrating its milestone 10th edition. The tight and twisty street track rewards driver skill over all-out horsepower, playing to Ricciardo's talent. But there's a real difference between being trackside, and being in the car.
For the fans, it's an intoxicating mix of F1 under lights, top international artists – along with a host of race-themed activities, cool bars and hawker-style eateries.
On-track, the action never stops with F1 supported by Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific and the super-competitive Porsche Carerra Cup Asia series.
The offer off-track
Off-track, there's loads to see and do with hawker-style eateries, cool themed bars, race-themed activities for the whole family and live performances from some of the world's biggest acts.
This year's line-up is one of the best-ever with global DJ sensation Calvin Harris, pop superstar Ariana Grande, synth-pop veterans Duran Duran, US pop rockers OneRepublic, American DJ duo The Chainsmokers, British singer-songwriters Seal, and Lianne La Havas, and spoken word performer George the Poet.
For the drivers, it's a serious test of human endurance with cockpit temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius at racing speeds, made only worse by three layers of fireproof clothing and a helmet. As a result the drivers will lose up to 3kg in fluid over a two-hour period.
"It's normally the longest race of the year and a pretty brutal and physical circuit so not much place to rest [through the lap]. It's a great challenge for the drivers," says Ricciardo.
Getting race ready
Tough it may be, but Ricciardo – and Verstappen – will be one of the favourites for the race. And the Australian is ready to take his opportunity, ahead of what he hopes will be a shot at the world title next year.
"I'm certainly ready," Ricciardo says.
"I feel I've been ready [for a world championship campaign] for a few years, so I want it to happen soon. Ideally it happens next year but if it doesn't – I've got to try and make it happen.
"I want to put myself with the best chance possible, and hopefully we can get over that kind of early season slump next year and give everyone something to think about."