Interview: Daniel Ricciardo on lessons learned

In this exclusive Q&A, the Red Bull Racing F1 star opens up on why a tough 2015 had its benefits.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Last year was all mapped out for Daniel Ricciardo. After 2014, the progression was obvious. From three wins and third in the Formula One world championship in his first year at Red Bull Racing, a tilt at the title was a given, surely?
History shows that 2015 didn’t turn out that way for the 26-year-old Australian, with a largely uncompetitive car and more than his fair share of bad luck consigning him to eighth in the drivers’ standings as Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton romped to back-to-back titles. But it wasn’t all bad news for Ricciardo, despite him having plenty of reasons to turn down the volume on that perma-grin of his. If 2015 taught him anything, it’s that there’s always more you can learn, doubly so when times are tougher.
Before he scampered back to his European base ahead of pre-season testing later this month, we caught up Ricciardo for a chat.

How did you balance trying to make the best of what you had last year with managing the frustrations of not being able to get what you wanted?
Honestly? I look back on the season with a smile. Sure, I had some frustrations at times, but the one thing I’m really happy with is that I felt like I learned a lot from the season. The point that you stop learning is the point where you start to get a little bit worried. I’m still young and feel there’s a lot to learn and to achieve in the sport. Some of the harder times, I took a lot out of those.

Was there one moment where you thought ‘hang on, I need to reassess what I want to get out of this year?’
If there was a race, it was Canada. I got to Montreal excited because of what it meant with the first win a year before and because the track is awesome. I was on the plane and as I landed, I had this feeling, this excitement. And then it was one of those weekends where nothing worked on track, I was chasing my tail the whole time, and that just had me frustrated and as pissed off as I’ve been.
I realised that if I stayed like that, it wasn’t going to help my season and you end up in a downward spiral. I had to accept the situation – I didn’t have to like it, but I had to accept it – and I had to find a way to be better and look at the bigger picture.
My trainer Stu (Stuart Smith) was awesome with me. He’s the sort of guy who will stand in the garage and he’s taking notice of the team environment and me and everything. He notices things that I don’t even need to say, he just picks them up. He helped me to reassess and helped me understand that you have to take criticism constructively and use it, and after Canada was when things started to turn around for me, bit by bit.
It’s important people like that in your corner. Some people have an entourage and some people have that one person, and Stu has been the one guy who can work out the situation and work out what to do to help.

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Being a leader for the team in 2015 as the senior driver – especially when things were difficult – how conscious were you of being one of the public faces of the team and needing to do your bit for morale?
There were times when I’d want to do or say something and then realise that maybe I need to hold back and manage this better, because everyone’s looking at you and your reactions. In the first few races as Dany (Kvyat) was finding his feet and getting to know everyone, the team was probably looking at me to set an example. Naturally, sometimes frustration gets the best of you and you have to say ‘no, I’m not going to put on a brave face’, but you have to pick your moments. You’ve got to be sensible and aware that if you do spit the dummy, it could have a negative effect on everyone. I think I said things when they needed to be said, but bit my tongue when they didn’t.

So what’s the target for 2016?
More podiums and to get a win, at least. I missed that win (last year), so at least try to get one would be a good start.
Last year I expected to come in and fight for a championship, and that was how I had my mind prepared. With that mindset it’s easier to get frustrated, because you’re thinking you should be top-three, and you’re sixth. It’s natural to set high targets, but I think you’ve just got to roll with it, whatever you’ve got, and make the most of it.

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