The Inside Line #104: Perceptions, realities

TILI Logo PrintDaniel Ricciardo; good at driving F1 cars, rubbish at celebrating driving them faster than anyone else. The Australian had broken through for the F1 win he always dreamed about in Canada last year, and the clichéd response to a maiden victory would have been to spend the night out on the town in Montreal, wake up with a screaming hangover and with a wallet lighter than when he left his hotel, and with stories best kept to the people who were there. The reality was somewhat different.

Ricciardo had actually booked his own flight out of Canada for a few hours after the chequered flag, figuring like everyone else that it would be Mercedes with something to celebrate – after all, the Silver Arrows had won the previous six Grands Prix. When circumstances conspired to see Ricciardo on the top step of the Canada podium and not Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, the mad dash to the airport was hastily scrapped. Red Bull found a downtown venue, the drinks flowed freely and the backslaps came from all angles, but Ricciardo felt strangely detached from the whole thing. Happy, yes. But a bit numb.

“Leaving the track in the hire car with Stu (trainer Stuart Smith), that was when it hit me,” he remembers.

“Eight or so hours earlier I’d turned up all pumped for the race like I usually am, and then leaving as the winner … The next day, on the plane on the way home when I had some time to myself and some time to just think, that was pretty special. The night of the race, you always wonder how massive of a party you’d have if you ever won a Grand Prix, but the funny thing was that I was just exhausted. I had a couple of drinks, but once the adrenaline wore off, I wasn’t full of energy.

“Mentally, I was shattered.”

Ricciardo improved at celebrating Grand Prix wins as the 2014 season wore on – the timing of finishing first in Hungary just before the mid-season break and having a few mates in Budapest to watch the race was fortuitous given the partying that followed – but he’s unlikely to have too many chances to do the same this season. There’ll be times this year where someone other than Hamilton or Rosberg gets to spray the champagne of victory – as Sebastian Vettel demonstrated in Malaysia – but as last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix showed, they’ll be few and far between. Ricciardo might have to hope the memories of Montreal 2014 don’t fade for a good while yet, but he remains as relevant as ever for Australian F1 fans as the man who came to Vettel’s team and did in seven races what Mark Webber didn’t in five years – put the German in his place.

Webber’s legacy was an interesting footnote to Ricciardo’s stunning season in 2014. Ricciardo undoubtedly partnered Vettel in a rare down year last year, but the casual sports fan only sees the headlines and the results, and then starts to ask questions. I lost count of the number of times last year I was told “see, Webber really was no good” or variations thereof by people with limited knowledge of the sport after another Ricciardo race where he’d made Vettel look pedestrian [1]; it’s a simplistic and harsh assessment and one that I did my best to correct, but it was out there nonetheless. The hardcore F1 fan (and F1 media who miss his brutal honesty) remembers Webber for what he was with fondness, a proper fighter with no shortage of bravery, someone who scrapped and scraped his way into F1 and managed to win races when he finally got hold of a decent car, and unfortunately a driver who forever seemed to be in the right place at the wrong time, or make the wrong call when it really mattered (choosing Williams over Renault, alienating his team when he needed them most in 2010 in Brazil, not getting to Ferrari when the opportunity presented itself). The casual sports fan? Most of them are surprised to know he’s still racing in the World Endurance Championship, some were surprised he popped up on Australian TV for the season-opener in Melbourne again, and others wondered why he’d choose to release a book in the middle of the F1 season in Australia when the sport has little mainstream cut-through and two years after he’d pulled the pin. There are reasons, trust me [2], but the timing does seem a little off. As someone cruelly remarked to be during the week, it’s at least consistent with his starts to F1 races … [3]

Now that I’ve managed to get off-topic, back to the task at hand. The Inside Line, episode 104 this week, looks back at the weekend that was in Montreal and a race that, until this year at least, is usually one of the more entertaining of the season. At least it was well timed for those on the east coast of Australia with a public holiday Monday to roll into after the 4am start. It’s almost enough to make me a monarchist, for one day at least …

— — — — — ———-

[1] When uninformed footy bozos masquerading as sports (note use of plural, even though in parts of Australia there’s only one) radio hosts peddle a certain line for years based on nothing and enough people hear it, it becomes fact, apparently. Sigh.

[2] How do I fit this into a footnote? Impossible. When will I read the book? Never. Don’t need to. When will I elaborate on this? In good time, in good time … In the meantime, is that the sound of the karma bus I hear?

[3] Harsh, very harsh. Not wholly untrue, but harsh nonetheless.

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