The Dan Diaries: Catching my breath

In his first exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing ace Daniel Ricciardo talks Baku, a Canadian road trip, and getting old.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

No, I’m not giving up my day job to become a writer, don’t worry – but I thought I’d take you behind the curtain a bit and let you know what’s been going on. I’m back home in Monaco this week after a back-to-back with Montreal and Azerbaijan, and then we have another back-to-back after this weekend off with Austria and Silverstone. It’s a pretty glamorous life, this F1 driver thing – this morning I’ve been running errands and doing pretty boring stuff so I can get some time off to recharge a bit over the weekend.

I got back into Monaco on Tuesday after Azerbaijan, which wasn’t the greatest result for us, but a cool new race for us to go to. Sunday in Baku caught us all a bit by surprise, to be honest. We expected a one-stop race, we figured it would be a pretty safe one-stopper, a bit like Russia. But by the start of the third lap of the race, I could feel the tyres were going off and I could already tell that it was going to be very difficult to do that, so I was in to change the supersofts for a set of softs on lap six. We figured the softs would behave differently but that was the same, so by lap 23 I was back in again, and this time for mediums. Because the track was quite smooth, we thought we could be a bit more aggressive with the tyres and try to put some more energy through them, work them a bit harder. We just took that a step too far. We didn’t plan on running the medium tyre at all, and we were kind of forced to in the end. It actually worked alright for us, all things considered. So seventh wasn’t great, but it was kind of where we were.

I might have got a bit carried away on Saturday after qualifying when I told everyone it was guaranteed to be an awesome race on Sunday, the race of the season, that sort of thing. It ended up being pretty stale, didn’t it? In some of my interviews afterwards I apologised to the fans for maybe getting their hopes up a bit too much! I was basing it partly (this is my excuse anyway) on the two GP2 races, which were both insane. We were all expecting there’d be a safety car based on what happened in the GP2 races, but it just never happened.

When Azerbaijan came onto the calendar, I didn’t know much about the place – I wasn’t on my own there, mind you. I knew it was further east than Sochi, but that was as good as my geography was going – I had no idea where exactly it was on the map, and I didn’t know the track was right on the sea. And no, I couldn’t spell it from scratch – I got the ‘i’ in the wrong spot. That’s why we have predictive text, right? Anyways, I thought the whole thing was great and the race there definitely seems like a keeper compared to some of the places we’ve gone to and then stopped going to after a few years. I really enjoyed it – everything was convenient, you could walk straight into the paddock from the hotel – and it didn’t seem like a new race as everything just seemed to be in the right place and established, which isn’t always the way.

And the track was awesome. For me, it felt a bit like Singapore in sections, bits of it reminded me of Macau, bits that were unique – it was a long lap too, which is pretty unusual for a street circuit. You could really attack it, so it was heaps of fun to drive, and a good combination of outright speed and some technical driving and risk. Turn 9 where we brushed alongside the castle there – on the simulator it seemed tight, but I did a track walk, I couldn’t believe how tight it was and how little margin for error there was. But for me, that’s really refreshing that a corner can be tighter and more difficult than we expected.

Before Baku I ended up in New York for a bit before heading to Montreal, which was kind of planned, but it took a different twist after what happened to me in Monaco. I’m guessing you all know about that … Any time we head to Montreal or to Austin, that side of the world, I always plan a few extra days either before or after depending on where I need to be, so the plan was to always spend some time in the US before heading up to Montreal. New York made sense as it’s so close to Montreal, and a few other guys from the team were heading there, so we made the decision to road trip it from there to Montreal, we did a drive over about six hours or so. I had planned on spending the weekend in New York before Montreal, but after the way Monaco went, I had the perfect excuse to head out earlier. With that and the back-to-back with Azerbaijan, I haven’t been home a lot lately, but I’ll fix that this week.

Montreal was fun except for how stupidly cold it was – I think it was 12 degrees on race day and the wind is pretty fierce coming off the river, so I did the drivers’ parade with three jumpers on and a beanie, and I was still freezing! The best part of the weekend was qualifying, because I gave the wall a decent whack and managed to get to fourth. I think I managed to hit the wall a bit more square than Carlos (Sainz) did earlier on, but I knew that I’d hit it pretty hard – the car was a bit wobbly down the straight, but she got there! I stayed in the throttle and gained a tenth and a half of a second on the way in, and maybe lost half a tenth on the way out, so it was an overall win. The race – it was one of those that didn’t quite happen, and the big mistake for me was locking the first set of soft tyres into the last chicane. I looked at the race afterwards and at that stage I was ahead of (Valtteri) Bottas, and maybe that could have been the podium he got.

The saddest thing about Baku was afterwards when someone told me that it was my last race as a 26-year-old – it’s my birthday before Austria. I reckon 26 still sounds young, but 27 … it’s a good thing I don’t stress much, but there might be some grey hairs coming in soon. I reckon I can pull the old salt and pepper beard off if it comes to that. As long as you own it, right?

Daniel was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.

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