Ricciardo’s three-part plan

Learn how the Red Bull racer keeps himself in prime condition for the longest season in F1 history.


The glamour, the attention, the chance to drive the world’s most sophisticated racing cars in front of a worldwide TV audience of millions – there’s a very obvious allure to being one of the few who get to race in Formula One. That’s all on show for public consumption, but what isn’t as easily recognisable is the work the drivers do behind the scenes to prepare themselves to perform at their peak every race weekend.

With this year’s calendar stretching from March to November and a record 21 races, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has needed to be in better shape than ever to combat the gruelling travel regimen and number of hours at the wheel. But it’s not all about what happens at the track; as Daniel’s performance coach Stuart Smith explains, it’s what is (or isn’t) done before, during and after a season that helps keep Ricciardo in optimum condition.

Switch off to move on
Being primed for the next season can only happen if the driver is able to shut down after the previous one, Smith argues. The final race of last year was in Abu Dhabi in late November; after that, Ricciardo had commitments in his hometown of Perth to attend to before finally being able to unwind. Smith says that downtime is critical.

“It’s important for Daniel to completely unwind at the end of the season and get a proper mental and physical break,” he says.

“It’s such a brutal season in contrast to other sports because of the time it takes and the travel. Testing starts in February, and the final race is at the end of November, and you’re in different time zones, different continents … it’s a long haul. We’ve found that it’s important to have time away from training, from travel, even from each other a bit … we take a month, and then we get back into it in early January.

“Part of what makes that work is an understanding on the athlete’s side that there’s a time when you need to get back to work, and Daniel has always been ready to get back into pre-season by the time January comes around. He’s always ready to go and to get after it in January, his motivation and drive is where it needs to be.”

Hit it hard, keep it moving
Once January comes around, pre-season testing looms large, and time is of the essence. The early days of January and February may be off the radar for most F1 fans, but that’s where the committed drivers are really putting in the hours, Ricciardo being no exception.

“You get your best work done for the year in the first month to six weeks,” Smith argues.

“We try to have a couple of weeks of training in Australia to start because it’s home for Daniel, for one, and because we can do good hot-weather training. We identify different physiological parameters that we want to improve and work across the board to do that. We didn’t do anything specific to this year with the 21 races and the longest calendar F1 has ever had – it was more an evolution of the program we had in place before.”

Smith says varying Ricciardo’s training is one of the best parts of the pre-season.

“One of the great things about working with a Formula One driver from my perspective is the variety of training you can implement. As an example, if you’re working with a runner or a rugby player, they have to run or practice rugby, and train within their given sports. Formula One drivers don’t train by driving Formula One cars, that’s just not possible. It’s not like you can just get a car and head out to, say, Silverstone for some laps. So we have the licence to keep varying things, varying ways of training, to keep training interesting.”

Routines for race week
Smith became a new father earlier this year and has scaled back his travel to five races with Ricciardo this season as a result, but the pair have a tried and tested plan in place for dealing with a race weekend.

“For a Grand Prix in Europe, Wednesday is the travel day,” Smith says.

“We’ll try to make it to the city we’re going to be in at a time so we can have dinner on local time and get into the hotel so you can be asleep on local time, because we want to get up early the next day, a time that’s conducive to waking up ready on the other days of the weekend. We work backwards – say practice starts at 10am, engineering meetings start at 9, you want to be at the track at 8 to have breakfast … you have to be leaving the hotel at 7.30 and need to be up no later than 7, which means you have to get a good sleep on that first night.

“The focus is to go through mobility exercises and some more training – we’ll generally do some low-level training on the Thursday morning before he heads to the track to do media and meetings. That’ll be the last dedicated physical training we’ll do over a race weekend. From Friday and working backwards from what time he needs to be in the car, the weekend has its own flow and we’ll take what chances we have to work on things to keep him fresh.”

Part of utilising that time comes away from the prying eyes of the TV cameras. Spending time with Ricciardo during an on-track session of a race weekend is quite an eye-opener; while some drivers stand around and chat or sit in the back of the garage biding their time before getting back into the car, Smith and Ricciardo will often be in an adjacent empty garage with Smith’s bag of sporting equipment that comes to every Grand Prix.

“We’ve done different warm-ups since we first started working together in 2011, when we took a rugby ball to the track,” Smith says.

“With me being from Brisbane, rugby is a bigger sport than Perth where he’s from, but we eventually went to an AFL ball. It was just something we enjoyed as a warm-up, and it evolved from there.

“We tend to vary the warm-up we do, but it serves the same purpose for him, which is to get him in the right headspace to drive the car. There’s no one set routine we go through, but it could be the AFL ball, a skipping rope, tennis balls, reaction drills – we’ll mix it up. There’s no routine other than this being part of Daniel’s routine before he gets in the car in that set time we have.

“It doesn’t work for every driver and they all have different ways of wanting to warm up, but we’ve found that it works best for him.”


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