Daniel Ricciardo is shedding his image as a nice guy with a big smile and earning respect as a hard racer - and he is enjoying it, the Australian said on Thursday.
Speaking at the Hungaroring circuit on the eve of this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, the 25-year-old Red Bull driver said he felt he had 'come of age' with his praised performance in a battle against Spaniard Fernando Alonso during last Sunday's German Grand Prix.
"You cannot get pushed around in anything you do," he said. "And because I smile a lot and seem like the friendly guy... A lot of people, if they see my actions, or my face, they probably think I am a little bit soft, or that I am nice and wouldn't hurt anyone.
"But it is nice for me to demonstrate this year that I can race hard. I am definitely not intimidated by anything, or anyone, on the track.
"I think even when Red Bull signed me last year, this was still a question mark for them.
"I had had some good races, but I wasn't really consistently showing a high level of aggression or commitment to overtaking.
"But I think that has definitely changed this year and that is good. I am enjoying it. I am growing up."
Two-time champion Alonso of Ferrari heaped praise on Ricciardo, who has out-qualified his more illustrious team-mate, defending four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany, six times out of ten this year, for his maturity and talent during their battle last weekend.
He said that Ricciardo had been doing an "unbelievable job" for Red Bull, in his first season with the champion team.
Ricciardo added: "When there is respect among drivers in the paddock and you have a good fight with someone -- and it has been clean and hard, but fair, it is always fun.
"Both drivers take satisfaction - whether you win or lose the battle you still have a sense of satisfaction if you have been in a good fight.
"To hear it from someone like Fernando, who is a world champion, and let's say a leader of the sport in a way, it is nice.
"It is nice to get that respect from someone like that, and it is nice to know that what I have learned in my years has certainly served me well."