In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo remembers the key milestones along the way to his 100th Grand Prix start this weekend.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
It’s June 2011, and I’m home in England. The mobile rings and the caller ID says ‘Helmut (Marko)’ – you answer those ones quickly! – and he got to the point. He said “some things have happened, and you’ll be on the grid at Silverstone in a week’s time. Oh, and it’ll be for HRT“. He probably said some other really important stuff as well, but all I heard was “you’ll be on the grid, you’ll be on the grid”. And then he hung up. I remember that moment like it was yesterday and I’ve been thinking about that this week, because Germany this weekend is my 100th Grand Prix.
Because Formula One is always about the next thing – the next day, the next flight, the next race – you probably don’t pause and reminisce that much. You’re always surrounded by people who are in the same space as you, so you’re in that traveling group that’s always next this, next that. Generally speaking I only tend to get reflective about things if I’m home in Monaco, if I’ve got quiet time to myself. But when you get to a milestone like 100, you can’t help but think of people, places, races you did, the big moments.
But anyways, back to 2011. To get to join F1 halfway through a season was pretty unexpected, but to join a team that had no affiliation with Red Bull was very random. I turned up for work on the first day at Silverstone like the new bloke in any job – I knew absolutely nobody. I was asked to get to the track as soon as the engineers arrived, I had a seat fitting, someone measured me for some overalls – it was crazy really. The first race and that whole weekend was all about survival, trying not to stuff anything up and getting through it. You feel like you’ve made it, and then you pull up at the grid – at the back – and you realise that all you’ve done is start something else. I was at base camp, HRT was the bottom team – I think we were four seconds a lap off the pace – so it was being back at square one again. I remember being absolutely exhausted mentally after the first weekend.
I’d been around the paddock for a bit and people knew me to an extent back then, but it becomes different when you make the grid and you’re actually racing these guys. I was in the press conference for that first race at Silverstone – yes, there’s some photos floating around that showed how much growing up I had to do! – and I vividly remember Lewis (Hamilton) hanging back afterwards to talk to me, welcoming me and telling me not to get overwhelmed by everything and just enjoy myself. That was actually quite cool.
In the early days, you don’t try to make yourself known too much, and I was definitely happy to go under the radar in things like the drivers’ briefings. The first time I got some recognition from the other drivers was probably my qualifying in Bahrain for Toro Rosso the next year when I got sixth on the grid. On the drivers’ parade, everyone was talking to me. Even Kimi (Raikkonen) came up and said ‘good luck’, and we all know Kimi isn’t one for small talk, so it must have been alright! That was before my first lap of that race, which we don’t need to talk about again, I reckon …
Thinking of some other moments that I’ll always remember from this first 100, Canada 2013 was another one that didn’t go well, but it might have been the turning point in my career. We knew Mark (Webber) was leaving Red Bull, and Canada that year was honestly one of the worst races of my life. (Toro Rosso teammate) Jean-Eric (Vergne) was sixth which was almost like a victory in a Toro Rosso, and I was 15th and absolutely nowhere. Sometimes you’re slow and you can rationalise that because you know why, but that weekend I was bad and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe knowing there was a Red Bull seat available made it worse. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really like race cars much after that weekend. I had to try something different because it just didn’t make sense. I went to New York for a week after Montreal and tried not to think about racing at all and stop beating myself up about it. I’ve had better memories in Canada since then of course, but that 2013 weekend and how I decided to react to it was maybe the most important of my F1 career. Without that, who knows how it would have turned out?
The strongest memories are the wins of course, but Australia 2014 was one of the best weekends of my life. OK, so I didn’t get to keep the podium, but the whole thing was just awesome. For me, the second place (well, for a while anyway) and just how pumped the crowd was … added to that was the team was so happy after we’d had such a terrible pre-season and we probably didn’t even expect to be running at the end of the race. Walking out onto that podium was surreal in one way but strangely familiar too, as I’d had a picture of what that might be like at my home Grand Prix before, and it was as I’d imagined it would be. There was some pretty intense smiling going on there! I felt the whole weekend that everyone was on my side, there was so much positive energy there. I’m not sure where that sits in terms of favourite memories from these 100 races, but it’s right up there.
Getting to 100 races now means that more than half the grid is younger than me, and I definitely don’t feel like the new kid anymore. I still feel like I’m on the younger side in terms of my energy, my drive, my determination and all of that, but in saying that, I get on better with the older guys – Felipe (Massa), Jenson (Button) and those guys – these days, and I feel I’ve earned their respect now. We probably have more in common than I do with the younger guys – Max (Verstappen) is nearly 10 years younger than me, remember, so there’s a bit of a generation gap there for both of us.
My perspective on the sport has changed over the 100 races, and that’s a good thing. My time in F1 has taught me that I don’t think the sport should consume you. For me, having other interests and a life outside of F1 is really healthy. When I was 15 and desperately wanting to be in F1, that’s all you think about. You thought that F1 drivers trained for hours and hours every day of the year, they never sit on the couch watching TV because they’re smashing out another 100 push-ups, that sort of thing. Once I realised that all-consuming mentality wasn’t the way to go, the better I started to perform because I was more balanced in life, and I became a happier person. I generally perform my best when I’m balanced and I’m having a good time doing it.
Anyway, Germany is going to be fun this weekend. We didn’t race there last year, but it’s good to go back to Hockenheim again after a podium in Hungary. For about half the race last Sunday I felt we had the chance to fight for first or second, and Mercedes didn’t seem that rapid at that stage. But then they pulled it out afterwards, and the last few laps were tough – my tyres were going, and I’d made a mistake with about 10 laps to go when I’d flat-spotted one of them pretty bad. So the last 10 laps I was more occupied with hanging onto third, and I was relieved when I crossed the line because Seb (Sebastian Vettel) was getting closer and closer.
Hungary has been kind to me and it was good to be up there on the podium again. Hockenheim is a very different circuit of course and it’ll be tougher for us this weekend, but we’ve had some strong results in the last few races, so hopefully there’s something to celebrate as well as my 100th on Sunday night.