Daniel Ricciardo: Rocking the F1 paddock
15 August 2013 – The fact that he is going head-to-head with former World Champion Kimi Räikkönen for a seat at Red Bull says a lot about Daniel Ricciardo’s qualities as a Formula 1 driver. Whether or not he joins Sebastian Vettel next year, it’s time to get to know the Australian. GPUpdate.net had a relaxed conversation with him.
Among the serious faces in the F1 paddock is the welcome change of Ricciardo’s broad smile. Taking a glance at the remainder of the grid, the 24-year-old appears to be extracting a little more enjoyment from his time in the sport. Even after a hard day at work, he grins from ear to ear when faced with the world’s media, while the majority of his counterparts reluctantly answer questions on their time behind the wheel.
"Freedom and happiness," says Ricciardo, looking back at his introduction to motorsport. "The first time was a kart, my dad pushed me to start it and then I was on the track by myself. It’s freedom and because it’s my passion the happiness comes with that."
Progression to Australian Formula Ford and Formula BMW Asia followed, prompting his maiden run in single-seater machinery. But it was not as straight forward as he had anticipated: "The first time I got in a Formula car, I was a bit more nervous. I always expected that you would see more. When you sit so low in the car you don’t quite understand how little you see. I wanted to sit higher in the car, but the engineers said it was normal."
In 2007 Ricciardo moved to Europe, contesting Formula Renault 2.0. He won the West European Cup the following year, and duly rose to British Formula 3 with Carlin. A dominant display saw him secure the title by a mammoth 87 points, before he spent a two-year spell in Formula Renault 3.5. Of his time ascending the motorsport ladder, he explains: "Winning Monaco twice in the World Series was a good memory. I also had a really good fight with Valtteri Bottas at Silverstone in 2008, during Formula Renault 2.0. As a youngster, that was my best race. I was really excited when I heard he had signed for the year because we had some really good battles as kids."
Ricciardo’s graduation to F1 arrived suddenly in 2011, when Red Bull acted to secure him a drive with backmarkers HRT. Claiming Narain Karthikeyan’s seat from the midway point of the season, he recalls, "It was a dream come true. I’m sure everybody says it, but it’s true. It’s definitely surreal. Looking back to when I was on the grid at Silverstone for my first race it seems like a big blur. I’ve watched F1 since I was two-years-old. You put it on a pedestal as a kid. After spending some time here you have to bring it down to the real world level, but the first moment was very exciting.
"When I heard HRT wasn’t going to be on the grid this year I was sad for them. I won’t forget the memories that I had with them. It was the first team I raced in F1 with, so it was definitely sad. I felt sorry for them and the whole situation; I obviously know a lot of the guys there who can’t continue in F1 now. But the good thing about that is I have the memory. I have the model car as well, something to keep that I’ll always remember!"
Outside the cockpit, music is Ricciardo’s biggest passion. From listening to specific genres before before Grand Prix sessions to watching his favourite bands live, it is a pastime that he exploits to the full: "I love music. If I’m in the house or in the car I always have my music on. It relaxes me as much as anything. My main genre of music is punk. New Found Glory was the first punk band that I really started to follow and to like when I was back in High School. They bring back a lot of good memories.
"I really like going to concerts as well. It’s one of the things I do to relax. During the year I’ll go to maybe four or five. At the track, I usually listen to something a bit heavier for the races, such as Parkway Drive or Alexisonfire. With a bit of screaming as well, to get me pumped up. Then for qualifying, I'll maybe listen to something more relaxed, just so I’m not too aggressive. In qualifying I think you need to be a bit more relaxed, while for the race you need the competitiveness."
In addition, Ricciardo has developed an interest for mixed martial arts, having stumbled across a live fight in 2012: "I really like UFC. I’ve gone a bit crazy on this. In Bahrain last year, I put the television on in the hotel before bed and there was a big fight on with lots of coverage. I thought, ‘this is really cool.’ I did a bit of boxing when I was younger, so I’ve always had a bit of an interest in the technique. Every day I’m watching some fights. I’m doing some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, just to learn a little about the arts. I also love watching all motorsports, such as NASCAR, Supercross and MotoGP."
Before the conversation comes to an end, Ricciardo takes a little time to discuss his future. What does he make of the potential for a drive with reigning World Champions Red Bull? He says, "I’ve heard it for a couple of years now. It’s something I can’t really think about. Until something may happen, it’s nothing. This year is a big task."