Formula One's Daniel Ricciardo lets loose
Where does time go? It seems like just yesterday we watched Nico Rosberg winning the Formula One title at the nail-biting Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2016. Well, a lot has changed in the off-season and ahead of this the new year's first race at the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, Esquire Middle East sat down to chat with Formula One's "Mr Nice Guy", Daniel Ricciardo to discuss some rather lighthearted questions:
ESQ: Some people think F1 is not the most physically strenuous sport. What is the preparation actually like for the upcoming season?
Daniel Ricciardo: It’s hard to explain. It’s really physical but people think, Yeah, yeah, I drive a car every day, what’s the difference? And the difference is that we corner and accelerate so fast that our bodies experience a lot of g-force, which produces stress on our neck and lower back. Your lower back is always trying to twist and you’re obviously trying to hold it still. So you need a strong core and good endurance because the race is an hour and a half to two hours long. Your heart rate is also around 150bpm for that whole time, so it’s high intensity. You need a lot of cardio endurance, but you need to be lightweight, which means not putting on too much muscle mass.
Well done for finishing fifth at last year’s Abu Dhabi F1 race. Is there anything extra to consider when driving in hot conditions?
Yes, normally our most physical races are the hottest ones, because you are dealing with dehydration, as you don’t get much fluid in the car. We maybe get half a litre to drink, and if the race is close to two hours that half-litre goes quickly. So we do a lot of hydration before the race, literally forcing fluids into yourself, because you always underestimate how much you’ll actually need.
Don’t you need to pee after all that?
I’ve never really had a strong urge, but I always wait to the last minute before I get into the car and then go to the bathroom, so normally it’s alright. But for the hot races we do a lot of heat training, so things like putting a bike in the sauna or something and do a bit of that in the week leading up to the race.
I’ve got the weakest bladder in the world, I just wouldn’t be able to do it.
You can do it in the car and it will probably be absorbed anyway!
OK, confession time: have you ever done it?
I haven’t. People have asked me, and I know some drivers have, but I don’t think I’d be able to relax enough to release it, if you know what
I mean; you’re so tense and I need to relax when I wee!
Are you a good day-to-day driver?
Yeah, I would say I am.
Would your friends say you’re a good driver?
I think so. Racing teaches you to always look ahead, like at the next corner. You’re constantly looking 500m in front of you, as opposed to 20m in front of you… Maybe not 500m; let’s say 100m. So I think in traffic you can see which lanes are backing up and which are the best ones to go to, or it helps with things like people crossing roads. You’re more aware of what’s going to happen.
Do you have a lot of in-ear conversations during the race?
Yes there’s a lot of dialogue. My engineer’s talking to me almost every lap. He’ll give me information such as what lap times other drivers are doing, so I know if I’m quick or not, or if I can push a little harder on the tyres. He’ll also tell me my engine settings — burn more fuel, do this, do that... it’s constant information.
Could he just be lying to make you go faster?
Sometimes he encourages me, which I like. It sucks when you hear that driver is half a second quicker than you. But if you do a good lap, he’ll be like, ‘Good lap, keep it up,’ and you feel better about yourself.
So tactics on the day — do you talk through how you’re going to race?
There are discussions all week regarding what happens on the Sunday. But then there are specific things such as how aggressively I’ll approach the start. I’ll always have a pretty standard approach; for example, if there’s a gap I’ll go for it. So be a badass, basically! We do have a strategy meeting a few hours before the race and we formulate a plan to say we are going to stop twice because that will be the best race for us, and we should fit two sets of new tyres. Things change so we’ll talk about what happens if you lose position at the start and you’re behind a slower car, meaning we might take a pit earlier to make adjustments.
Do you ever disagree?
I would say there are negotiations, but that’s why we talk about it, to get everyone’s opinion. And then by the end we say, ‘Alright this is what we’ll do,’ and we all convince each other that it’s the right thing.
As the drive do you have the final say?
If I feel really strongly about something, then, yes, I do. At the end of the day they’ll have enough data, so if they disagree with me they’ll have a good enough argument to persuade me of their reasoning. But if I’m like, ‘Guys, trust me, this is going to work,’ then they’ll listen to me.
I guess it’s only you that’s in the car…
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were the ones to beat last season. Do you get on with them?
Yeah, for the most part. Off the track I’ve got no beef with either of them. I think they are nice enough guys, but on track it’s like every man for themselves. I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive racer but at the same time I do it with that element of respect, so I don’t feel like I’ve ever been dirty or taken someone out intentionally. But if there’s a gap and I feel I can go for it and it seems a bit on the edge, then I’ll go. If you’re fighting for the title then I respect the position you’re in, but for me if there’s an opportunity to try and win the race, then I’m still going to try and win it.
Do you speak to each other outside the races?
A little bit. Lewis is a bit more up and down. Lately he prefers doing his own thing. On the drivers’ parade — which we do a few hours before the race, where we go around and wave to the fans — that’s a chance for most drivers to have a chat. It’s not really about the race but more what you’re doing afterwards, or whatever, and I’m more likely to speak to Nico Rosberg [who won the 2016 championship and subsequently retired] in that time, whereas Lewis has his music on and kind of stays to himself. But then there are also events where we will all chat to each other.
Are there any names to watch, that maybe you and Lewis should be scared of in the next couple of years?
My Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen is the youngest driver on the grid [he’s 19 years old]. He’s super quick, so he’ll be spearheading the next generation of kids. When we eventually retire — which I hope I’m a long way from — he’s the breed that will take over.
Do you offer advice?
Erm, not really. We are all competitors at the end of the day. We get on and work together well, but come race day, it’s every man for himself on the track.
You live in Monaco but you’re from Perth in Australia. How often do you go back?
Twice a year if I’m lucky. I’ll always be home for Christmas or at least the 10 years I’ve been away from home I’ve always gone back then. I also managed to get home in September after the Singapore Grand Prix.
Being from Australia, have you ever had a cold Christmas?
No, I’ve been in Europe in December but Christmas is always spent at home in the warmth!
I spent last Christmas on the west coast of Australia and it was amazing. We went up to Shark Bay.
I’ve never been; I’ve heard it’s beautiful.
I was sweating on the beach but didn’t go for a dip because I didn’t want to die. Do you get freaked out by sharks?
Well, I only went surfing for the first time last year; it took me 26 years to be brave enough. I love the beach, but I was the same; I was never going to go into the deep water. It’s probably also something to do with your parents. They weren’t big beach people, even though we lived near the sea. I think as a kid you probably get it in your head like sharks, sharks! I’m a little bit more game now but I’ll never go deep. I’m still a bit scared but I do like the idea of surfing, so I’m warming up.
Have you travelled much of Australia?
I’ve done a bit. I did Noosa [on Queensland’s east coast] for the first time last year and loved it. I also did Byron Bay for the first time this year and loved it. You can’t go wrong with any cool sort of beach town.
Would your friends and family describe you as competitive?
Yes. As a kid I was pretty competitive and I guess it also comes with age. When I was young I was a bad loser — if my friend beat me in a game of tennis or cricket I wouldn’t take it well.
Can I ask if you are an only child?
No, I have an older sister; In fact, I actually became an uncle yesterday.
Congratulations! Niece or nephew?
It’s a boy.
Will you train him to compete in F1?
Yeah, probably! It’s a tough sport and it’s kind of expensive so I might get him into some Jiu Jitsu or something. But that’s a pretty rough sport, so I might buy him a tennis racket.
What sort of uncle are you going to be?
I’m not going to spoil him with sweets, I’ll give him nutritional snacks and protein bars, haha! I’m a pretty affectionate person,
so I’ll smother him with a lot of love and a lot of cuddles. I’ll keep him active – not playing indoors with an iPad – and get him outside doing sports and involved in nature.
Did you always know you wanted to be a driver?
I did, although when I was eight years old, I wasn’t thinking I want to be an F1 driver. The realisation I could actually do this didn’t come until I was probably 18 or 19.
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This interview was first published in Esquire Middle East, March 2017. The interview was conducted at ITP Media Group, Dubai, November 21 2016.