The Dan Diaries: Timing is everything

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo talks Singapore and pays tribute to two old mates.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

How long is too long when it comes to staying in a top-line sport? Do you go out on top and then wonder one day if you should have kept going? Or do you keep going for as long as you can, maybe risking your reputation if your performances drop? And how do you know how to make the right call?

It’s something I’ve seen in so many sports that I’m a fan of, and I’ve often wondered what I’d do in that situation. I’m not sure yet, so hopefully I can be in Formula One a while before I have to make a decision! But it’s definitely something I’ve thought about lately since we found out that two of my better friends among the drivers, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, won’t be on the grid next season. They’ve both had a great run and it feels like the right time, they’ve not cut their careers short by announcing that they’re stepping away. They’ve done it well to call it when they have, and I reckon their timing is just about perfect.

When I first got into F1 – and this sounds ridiculous now – I was like “right, I’ll do this for a few years, get the job done and then I’ll get out and enjoy the rest of my life!” Easy, right? From the outside, getting out when you’re at the very top always seems like the cool option. People will always remember you as a champion. Look at someone like Alain Prost – won the 1993 world championship, and he was done. He could have kept going for sure, but we always remember him as that champion.

You always see the boxers, the footballers, people in other sports who hang around for one too many fights, one too many seasons, but for race car drivers I think it’s more straightforward. The day you feel you’re not willing to take the risks that the guy next to you on the grid is prepared to take, that’s the time to call it. If the young kids are doing some bold overtakes or holding it flat through Eau Rouge in the wet and you’re not, that’s the signal that it’s time. Like I said, I’m banking on that being a fair way off …

Anyway, I’ve got off topic, because I wanted to talk this week about Felipe and Jenson. From a personal point of view it’s a shame to see those two guys go, and it shows we’re going through a bit of a generation change at the moment. Back in ’06 when Michael Schumacher retired for the first time, there were a whole bunch of guys who came in over the next couple of years who stuck around for a while or are still going strong – guys like Lewis (Hamilton), Seb (Vettel), Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, (Heikki) Kovalainen. With JB and Felipe leaving, it feels a bit like that now. There won’t be too many guys who have been in F1 as long as me next year, which seems weird. There’ll definitely be more new faces than old faces on the grid.

Away from the track is where you really get to know someone, get to know the person rather than just the driver or the guy you’re racing against. Felipe and I live close to one another in Monaco, and that’s where we’ve got to know each other as people. We share a pretty similar upbringing and we place the same importance on family, which is something that’s helped our friendship. Just hearing him talking about why he enjoys going home to Brazil, why family matters so much to him and things like this, we have a lot of similarities. I think family has helped him to stay pretty grounded after all these years, and I definitely relate to that.

That 2008 title-decider in Brazil when he just lost the championship was something I’ll never forget watching. I mean, how could you? How he handled that moment … it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up thinking about that race even now. It was the most epic finish to a season ever, no matter who you supported. I was living in Italy at the time doing Formula Renault 2.0, and I was watching in my apartment with a Brazilian driver, so it was pretty intense! The way Felipe handled that, up on that podium touching his heart and how emotional he was, was just fantastic – he earned a lot of respect for that and he was a bigger man than most of us would have been in that situation. That was a tough moment and he handled it unbelievably well. It’s something pretty good to be remembered for.

For whatever reason, I’ve noticed that I do tend to get on with the older drivers, Jenson and Felipe and those guys. A big part of it is that by the time I became a bit more successful, say 2014 in the first year at Red Bull, they weren’t fighting for titles and were in that second phase of their careers, and we weren’t fighting for the same thing in some ways. That takes some of any tension that might be around out of the equation, and maybe if were at the same age and stages of our careers and going toe-to-toe for a world title, things would have been different. The travel to and from the races won’t be as much fun without those guys next year. Yep, I’m getting emotional … But massive respect to both of them, and we have six more races to enjoy with them before they step away.

I’m back home in Perth this week for the first time since the start of the year – it made way more sense to spend the week between Singapore and Malaysia in Oz than head back to Europe. Singapore last Sunday was one of the highlights of the year like it always is, and it could have only been better if I had another lap at the end to catch Nico. But I had no regrets afterwards.

That last stint on Sunday was a lot of fun. I think because Singapore is so physical anyway, being forced to push like I was at the end as opposed to being conservative and holding on to your tyres gave me some juice while it was happening. Knowing you’re catching someone like I was catching Nico in those laps when you’re two, three seconds a lap faster definitely gives you a jolt of energy! The adrenaline in those last laps was pretty big, and it was only after when I cooled down that I realised I was probably more shagged after a Singapore race than usual.

We were probably all expecting to go to the end on soft tyres, but then the call came that if Kimi (Raikkonen) pitted, we’d pit as well. At first I wasn’t sure why we were racing Kimi, I wanted to race Rosberg. But it was a free pit stop in a way, and we didn’t have much to lose so we could go for it. The last 15 laps with those tyres were like qualifying laps one after another, head down, radio chat low, full attack. With about five laps to go I came up behind Felipe and Esteban (Gutierrez) to lap them, and the tyres were starting to take a hit by that stage. I didn’t make much progress on that lap and I tried not to get frustrated, saying to myself that if I’d lost some time behind them, Nico probably had too. I was in a zone at that stage so I didn’t get distracted by it too much. In the end, we ran out of laps, but it was definitely a lot of fun even if we didn’t get right to the front.

Second in qualifying, second in the race … that’s four podiums in the last five races now and three of them second places, so hopefully we can get one step higher before the season ends.

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