Daniel Ricciardo: "Some drivers have a chip on their shoulder"
Daniel Ricciardo is a star. Not only is he arguably the biggest character in the Formula One paddock, but he is widely considered as one of the fastest drivers.
With 29 podium finishes and seven Grand Prix victories to his name, Ricciardo is a proven race winner. So much so that last year's seismic decision to leave the comfort of a competitive (and race-winning) car at Red Bull Racing in order to spearhead a revival at the Renault F1 Team shocked many in the sport.
Unfortunately for both Ricciardo and Renault it was a gamble that didn’t instantly come off. His first season was hampered by a slower than anticipated car, on-track racing incidents and ultimately a below-par ninth-place finish for the charismatic racer in the driver’s championship.
Ahead of this year's season opening Australian Grand Prix the affable Aussie talks to Esquire Middle East about Renault, rivalries and getting bored while racing.
ESQUIRE MIDDLE EAST: Last year’s move to Renault didn’t quite go to plan. How are you feeling ahead of the 2020 season?
Daniel Ricciardo: There are a lot of things that will be better this year – even without touching on whether the car will be better. A lot of that comes with it being the second year with the team, getting into testing and getting to the first race with fewer unknowns. I’ve developed a better relationship with my engineer now, we talk the same language. Things like that will be an instant improvement.
ESQ: In a sport dominated by the car, how can you, as a driver, improve the team?
DR: The truth is, Formula One drivers don’t actually get much time behind the wheel of the cars. The first time you get to drive the car is in February, and the last time you drove it was at the end of November. Therefore there is a lot of room to get better. Throughout the year you essentially get to drive the car for 3-4 days every couple of weeks, so things are still a learning curve when it comes to maximizing its performance.
I compare it to shooting to shooting a basketball. If you shoot 1000 shots every day from a young age, you are going to peak at a younger stage in your career, but with racing cars the more you do it the more you are learning and learning. I feel that a driver will never finish his career feeling like they have ever perfected the sport.
ESQ: What does a successful season for you in 2020 look like?
DR: It’s hard to put in terms of positions. I could say ‘to be Top Three in the championship’ but if my teammate wins the championship then the Top Three sucks! It’s all relative. From a team’s perspective, we finished fifth last year, and so we want to improve on that.
Probably the simplest way to say it would be for me to leave Sundays with my head held high. Whether I finish fifth or tenth, knowing that I can walk out of the paddock without a feeling of regret, and truly knowing that it was the best place I could have finished on that day.
ESQ: A lot is made about you being one of the more ‘fun’ drivers on the circuit. Do you think F1 needs more personalities?
DR: It would help the sport for sure. Essentially, the sport exists in a large part for the fans, and the more people watch the bigger it will become. If there was a lack of personality, then I don’t think it would be as successful as it is. Although it has to come naturally. I do feel that there are some drivers on the grid who have perhaps been told to have more ‘personality’, and they try to! But, some people fall for it while others do not. But then again, at least they are trying.
ESQ: What is your response when people say the sport is boring?
DR: I don’t think it’s a boring sport at all. I actually believe it was more boring twenty years ago when I was watching it growing up with Michael Schumacher winning all the time – but I was still a fan. I would watch the whole race, but normally the race was done after three laps. My dad would fall asleep after three laps, but probably because he had work the next day and most of the races back then were in Europe so the time difference was tough. The sport has always had a bit of a one-or-two team dominance, but with the introduction of things like DRS and things have created more opportunity for overtaking and battles, so I don’t think the sport is in a bad place at all.
I wish all the races were great to watch but, sure, you get some boring races – do I get bored sometimes in the middle of a race, yes! But that’s the truth. It’s the case in pretty much all sports. How boring is a 0-0 football match? Sometimes, it’s just not a good Sunday.
ESQ: How real are the rivalries between the drivers?
DR: It is the elite level of sport so they certainly exist. Each driver ultimately believes in themselves, and believe that they are better than the guy next to you, or the guy on the other side of the room. So there is a natural level of rivalry with the people you’re racing with. I’m certainly not mates with every driver on the grid, but there is a level of respect between the racers. Even if you don’t like the guy next to you, you don’t hate them because we all respect what we are putting on the line to achieve the passion that we share.
But going on to the more juicy stuff, there are people that I just don’t like. When I walk past drivers in the paddock and I smile and say ‘hi’ it doesn’t mean that I am going to be any nicer to them on the track. I’m still going to try and f**k you up. I tend to be quite friendly with people, but if I smile at someone and they don’t smile back – it kind of pisses me off. I take it personally for sure.
In my first few years, Kimi [Raikkonen] gave me the cold shoulder as few times and I took that personally. Maybe he didn’t know he was doing it, and just being Kimi, but I remember on track if I was feeling generous it was never going to be towards him. There are some drivers on track who have a chip on their shoulder, and some who think that they are better than the others. We all believe that we are better than each other, but some guys do it in a way that rubs me the wrong way.
ESQ: This month [March 2020] sees you competing in the Australian and Bahrain GP. Does each race have a different vibe to it?
DR: Absolutely. Those two races are polar opposite! Australia as an event, and a season opener, is great. Albert Park is an awesome venue and they fill the weekend really well. It is a real spectacle. But for me personally, it is a lot. There is a lot of attention and it is draining. When I go from Australia to Bahrain it is worlds apart and I feel like I’m on holiday. There is no way near the same amount of attention. I like going to Bahrain as it is a weekend where I can really get to work and be one hundred percent business without any obligations from sponsors or friends and family visiting.
As for the race, I think the Bahrain GP became a lot better since switching to a night race, and I really like night races – so I think it has improved a lot.
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