The Dan Diaries: Why old school still rules

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo talks legendary tracks and heroes of the past.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s an unusual week this week because I get to drive to a Grand Prix rather than just at one – Monza is pretty easy to get to from Monaco, and it’ll be good to take a road trip before we race in one of the best atmospheres all year. Coming off a good one in Belgium, I’m pretty pumped we’re racing again this weekend – and hopefully we can make it four podiums in a row. But before that, Spa was a pretty sweet weekend.

There was a lot going on in a lot of other places last Sunday, so I’ll take second, as much as I’m always up for a fight. The race wasn’t exactly boring for me because I was trying to stay consistent and look after the tyres, and I had to keep an eye on what Lewis (Hamilton) was doing coming through from the back. In the end he wasn’t a threat but he’s in a Mercedes, so he was still always a threat, if you get me. In the end, 14 seconds off Nico (Rosberg) and a win, and 13 ahead of Lewis – it was all good.

Spa is such a pleasure to drive at any time, and I’ve been going there for a while and never known weather like it, it was pretty awesome. On that track, in conditions like that and with such a massive crowd – special. I found a few Aussie flags in all of that orange for my teammate Max (Verstappen) too. Thanks to both of you for coming out … 

Being between Spa and Monza makes me think of some of the places we go these days compared to where we’ve seemingly always been, places that I’ve been to ever since I first came to Europe to race. I like a bit of both, the new places and the old ones, but there’s definitely some more love for the traditional races. I’m up for going to new places and seeing parts of the world I’ve not been to, but when you’ve got Spa, Monza, places like Silverstone, Monaco … these places always have to be in F1.

It’s not just that they’re great circuits – there’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words, that’s hard to describe, but something you sense as soon as you arrive there. It’s something you feel in your stomach – they just feel important, and you feel like you’re participating in something that means so much to so many people. The passion, the history … at Monza this weekend, you know there’ll be people letting off red flares on the drivers’ parade, you know there’ll be crazily passionate fans, so much noise, so many traditions. It’s one of a handful of races that no matter what always need to remain in our sport.

The very first time I was in Monza in 2007, I went out onto the old banking because I’d been told so much about it, and I was just blown away. It’s just crazy – I thought I had an idea looking at pictures, but until I went up there to see it, I realised I had no clue. I could barely walk up it, so the thought of driving a car in the old times, the commitment and courage those guys must have had in cars that weren’t as well built and had the chances of, say, a steering failure, it just blew me away. Sure, back then they didn’t know better and I’d like to think I would have still wanted to be a racing driver if I was around, but looking back, wow. Compared to what we’re doing, they’re pretty heroic figures.

There’s something about circuits like Spa, like Monza, that does it for me. In terms of circuit safety and risk versus reward, I’m always up for the ballsy circuits, the old-school tracks. That’s not to say I’m complacent about safety, far from it. I’ve said numerous times that I’m someone who welcomes the discussion about extra head protection for us drivers and what not – I 100 per cent support the head protection discussion, the ‘halo’ or whatever we’re going to go with, for flying objects and that sort of thing, for the freak accidents. But part of what makes those older tracks and the more established venues so special, in my eyes at least, is that risk factor. Cockpit safety and the risk factor for some circuits are two different discussions for me.

At Spa last weekend, not every lap through Eau Rouge was full throttle – and when you do a lap when the car is still heavy with fuel and tyres aren’t quite at the right temperature, it scares you in a way. And that’s a good thing. Passing through there every lap and knowing you got through clean, it’s a rush and it’s quite a relief. If there was three acres of run-off either side at the top of the hill, it wouldn’t mean as much. Kevin Magnussen had his big crash there in the race and fortunately he seems to be OK, but you don’t need so much run-off at every circuit all the time like we have at some of the newer places.

I was definitely ready to race again at Spa after our long break, but I enjoyed the time away too. I spent a lot of it in America with some mates who’d come over from Oz, and we had a blast. Some of you would have seen the video we did driving around in some pretty cool cars in LA over the course of a day. I was pretty keen for a complete break, but when the chance came up, I couldn’t resist. I didn’t tell the boys what we were going to do either, so it was a pretty cool surprise.

America is somewhere I’ve gravitated towards a bit more recently in my downtime and I’m loving it more every time I go over. Summer too, so being there in that time of the year was great – and I love the fact you can completely go under the radar there. I don’t really get recognised at all over there – over the course of the entire trip, I ran into a couple of Aussies at various stages, and I reckon one American guy recognised me – and even then he probably thought I was a NASCAR driver! Not sure any of us drivers will get away with that at Monza …

With my Italian background, I’ve always had a pretty good reception when I get to Monza – I’ll do a few more interviews in Italian over the course of the weekend and it’s one of the closest races to where I live, so with my family background and everything, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel more part of it than other places we go to. My Italian these days – for the last few months I’ve been in pretty good form for whatever reason, so hopefully that lasts for the week! I find that if I do interviews in Italian later in the day or if it’s been a long day, I drop off a bit. If I’m not tired, if it’s early in the day or I have some good energy about me, I’ll speak it pretty well. I’ve never been on that awesome podium there and I’m hanging to see what it’s like. Let’s hope I get to find out on Sunday.

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