In the fast lane: Daniel Ricciardo, 25, formula one driver
In his fourth season in formula one, Daniel Ricciardo replaced Mark Webber in the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team as the number two driver. Last month, he won his first F1 race at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Richard Cooke What’s been the biggest surprise of your first F1 season with a major team? It’s okay to say it’s been your success.
Daniel Ricciardo A lot of people are calling me a rookie, but I have been doing it a couple of years now. It is my first year with a big team, but I don’t know that anything surprised me. It’s just been nice to confirm a few things that I believed. I believed that if I had the team behind me I’d be able to get on the podium and race up front with the best guys in the world. They took a bit of a chance signing me last year, and it’s nice to show them they made the right call.
RC The Infiniti Red Bull Racing boss recently said he didn’t know quite how good you were when he signed you.
DR Yes, it’s cool. When they signed me I’d shown some speed in the past, and had some decent results. But I’d never really had the chance to fight for a podium. So it’s one thing being fast, but another being able to convert that on a Sunday, with all the pressures and distractions. I think they knew I was quick, but whether I could be the complete package was still a bit of a question mark to some.
RC The cars at the back and the front of the grid are only a few seconds apart, but that makes a huge difference. How do the fastest feel different to drive?
DR It’s subtle things, but because I’ve been growing up racing cars, they’re pretty obvious to me now. A big one in formula one, something a lot of teams fight for, is downforce. Aerodynamics is key. The more downforce you can produce, the more grip you have on the track, so you can take the high-speed corners a little bit quicker. When you get out of a low-speed corner you just feel more grip coming from the car, and you can get on the throttle a bit harder.
RC You seem to be enjoying it more.
DR Yeah, I am. This year I’m really enjoying the whole new package of formula one with the turbos and everything. The cars are sliding around a bit more, and we have a bit more on our plate to deal with, but it’s quite fun. When you race up the front, as I have been, fighting for top fives and podiums – that alone makes driving a lot more fun, and easier to get motivated.
RC You’ve come into formula one at a time when drivers on the same team have very intense rivalries. First at Red Bull, now at Mercedes, with teammates barely talking to each other. Are the rules changes a factor in that?
DR I think it’s just natural within competition. There’s only a select few in formula one, I think 22 of us. Everyone here is racing to win, to be the best, so if someone beats you on a day where you think you should have won, then obviously you’re not going to be happy.
RC That competitiveness also plays out in the media. There’s a whole kind of game around formula one now, with comments drivers make, goading each other. You get asked about [teammate] Sebastian Vettel all the time. When you’re talking to someone like me, is that something you’re conscious of?
DR To be honest, I always try to be as normal and as natural as possible. Some people can express their opinions through social media, and now with all this modern technology, it’s probably easier to get caught out on some things. But at the end of the day, we’re race-car drivers, and this is another part of the job, all the interviews and everything else. I’ll try and keep humble and, if there’s ever any conflict, I’ll just try and leave it on the racetrack and race hard and let it go there.
RC You’ve adopted the honey badger as your power animal. But you’re not the only Australian sportsman who has it as their talisman. Nick Cummins, the rugby player, has that nickname.
DR Yeah, I actually spoke a little bit on Twitter with Nick, and he said, “We’re going to have to sort out some rights for this animal; who’s got naming rights.” But like a lot of people, I saw a video on YouTube and I was just like, “Wow, this thing is awesome.” Because at times it does look quite cute and friendly, and then it seems like it’s got a bit of a split personality, where it goes after what it wants and takes what it wants. I think for me a lot of people see me as a very friendly guy. And as a truth I am, and I smile a lot, because I’m genuinely happy. But there’s probably some people who don’t think I ever get annoyed or upset. I do, or I can, and that animal just represents a good thing – it’s business with business, and then enjoy the rest.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 5, 2014 as "In the fast lane". Subscribe here.