Daniel Ricciardo says Red Bull will need to make a big step forward in 2018 if it is to convince him to stay when his current Formula 1 contract comes to an end.
The Australian is committed to Red Bull until the end of next season, and he is well aware that the next deal he signs will be an important one for him as he chases his maiden F1 championship.
Having been linked with both Mercedes and Ferrari longer term, Ricciardo will likely be a key target for several teams after next year – although he has suggested that his ideal scenario would be to win the title for his current employers.
In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com during an event to help promote his Ricciardo Kart venture, this year's Baku winner said that a championship assault was all that mattered to him as he admitted some impatience to get hold of a car that could deliver it.
"I went through that impatient phase for sure, and I am still bordering that – because I don't want to leave F1 without a championship," said Ricciardo.
"At least right now, I still believe I can do that absolutely. I am looking for it – sooner rather than later.
"I thought we would be in with a really good shot this year, but it hasn't turned out like that. We have still managed to get podiums but we haven't realistically been in the championship hunt so it really needs to happen with Red Bull next year – at least from my point of view.
"I've been here for quite a few years now and I think next year we need to make a bigger step next year than we did this year, to really convince me that I can win with them.
"Do I want to win with them? Absolutely. I think that would complete the story as well. Seb [Vettel] got to complete it – he is the only guy. So my heart would love to. But we will see.
"I want an opportunity to be able to win week in and week out, while I believe I am still at the top."
Ricciardo's availability for 2019 is believed to be one of the driving factors in both Mercedes and Ferrari not wanting to lock themselves into long term deals with their current drivers.
At Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen is only on a one-year deal until the end of 2018, while Mercedes has only committed to Valtteri Bottas until the end of 2018.
Ricciardo said the option for him to move after 2018 was something new for him, as it would be the first time in his F1 career that he had a free choice of what to do – having had his career guided by Red Bull up until now.
"I think whatever I choose to do next, let's say I have got decisions to make once my Red Bull contract is up," he said.
"It is the first time in my professional career that I've been a free agent – it is something I've never really had before. I've been with Red Bull since the start and it has been awesome and all that.
"But it is up to them as well if they would want to continue, and then it is a decision where I think it will be best."
He added: "The next contract I sign, whether it is an extension or a new one, it is unlikely to be for just one year, it is probably three years. So that is a big part of the next step in my career.
"For sure it is something I will put a lot of thought in to. But at the end of the day, I want to be somewhere where I can have a good chance of success and winning, but it is an environment I want to enjoy as well.
"A big part of my success is that I have fun doing this sport. I feel like not everyone is having as much fun as they should, so that is important for me."
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