The Dan Diaries: Keeping the faith

In his latest exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo opens up about fate, fame and form.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It took me a while – too long really! – but I’ve won another Grand Prix since I last wrote. It’s been a season where Mercedes has dominated again and there’s not been too much opportunity for the rest of us to win, but Malaysia was mine and I took it. I had belief that I’d get a chance this year, so it was nice to be proven right. And it was also nice that – for me anyway – I got a reward for staying true to who I am.

Did winning Malaysia make up for losing Monaco? Well, the feeling of winning is always worth it, but you can’t really compare it or say that it made up for it. What I did feel though was that Monaco probably made my joy bigger in Malaysia because I had to wait longer. It was even a bigger ‘yes!’ than it might have been. And, as you saw, shoeys all round …

Which brings me to the first of this week’s three four-letter f-words – don’t worry, I’m going to keep it clean … The first one: fate. It was interesting to hear some people after Malaysia that I was “always” going get paid back for what happened at Monaco, like it was guaranteed to happen or something. I’m not sure if I believe in fate full stop, but I’ve always been the sort of person who thinks things happen for a reason – not just in racing, but in life as well. Maybe I’m more a believer in karma more than fate.

Monaco happened, of course I was gutted, but it happened. I tried to stay true to my usual approach and I genuinely believed that if I kept up my level of driving this year, it would be very hard for me not to win a race. Sure, I got some good luck in Malaysia with Lewis (Hamilton) retiring, but the record books say ‘how many’ and not ‘how’ – Monaco was like that for him, Malaysia for me. Seems reasonable …

After the win in Malaysia, there’s that period when you’re on the podium that it all goes quiet for a second, and then they play the national anthem. It’s a brief pause and it hits you because everything has been so hyper before that, the end of the race, the jumping around and all of that. Malaysia was exhausting too because of the heat, the intensity of the battle with Max (Verstappen) and whatnot. I was pretty drained, and I got emotional up there as everyone saw. Part of it was the exhaustion, part was that I’d won again after two years. And as you would have seen afterwards, I was definitely thinking of Jules Bianchi – it was the first race I’d won since his accident, we had Suzuka coming up the next week where he had his crash, and I’d always wanted to dedicate something meaningful to him in a way since he passed. That quiet moment on the podium was when those thoughts came flooding in.

People know that Jules and I were mates and we came through the junior categories at the same time, and his death definitely changed me, maybe more than anything that’s happened to me. I wasn’t unappreciative of what I do for a living and F1 before, but after what happened, it made me more grateful for the position I’m in, the sport, what I have. I realised how important it was to enjoy more days in the sport for what they were and not look so far ahead all of the time, which is something a lot of people in F1 do. You can get so caught up in what’s a long way ahead that you don’t appreciate or even consider the journey along the way, and that’s been the biggest lesson I learned from Jules.

It could have been me, any of us, that day in Jules’ shoes. So I vowed after that that if I’m racing, taking the risks we take every time we drive, I’m going to do it properly, get the most out of it. We get to travel the world to race and that’s something we should be taking advantage of, experiencing new things, keeping your eyes open. Maybe it’s because I have some new perspective, maybe it’s just me growing up a bit. But Jules had so much ahead of him and it was taken away, and the lesson that taught me is that you need to live your life, get the best out of it, enjoy each day more.

I ended up in Japan soon after Malaysia, and we had a cool day in Tokyo driving something pretty different before heading to Suzuka. The car definitely turned some heads and the fans were awesome like they always are in Japan.

When we got to Suzuka, that only ramped up. There’s nothing like the fans at Suzuka anywhere, I’m always blown away by the reception all us drivers get, they make us feel like rock stars. Which leads me to fame and the whole concept of that (our second four-letter f-word, if you’re counting).

When I first came into F1, I used to resist the whole ‘being famous’ thing. I didn’t like it when people asked for photos when I first came into F1 – I didn’t feel like I’d done anything yet, so it felt a bit wrong. If I was out for dinner with, say, my family, I would feel really awkward if someone came over to me. Maybe I was thinking about it too much. But as you have some success, the attention goes up and you need to embrace that. We’re so incredibly fortunate that people care about what we do, support us the way they do. Everyone has their favourites and some drivers get different receptions wherever we go – Japan is one of those places where all of us get an awesome reception – and it becomes a lot more enjoyable when you embrace it. Gives you good energy too. It’s not like people seek you out to tell that they don’t like you! So it’s all positive.

We get to meet a lot of properly famous people – not F1-driver famous, really famous people! – doing what we do, and occasionally I still get a strange feeling when I meet someone. I wouldn’t call it being star-struck, but I have some moments still. In Abu Dhabi last year, I got to meet Kevin Hart and Ludacris. They both have massive followings and I actually went a bit shy when I was introduced to them, it was a bit weird there for a minute! I was actually a bit nervous, which was really strange. They knew who I was and what I did, but I felt pretty small compared to them. It’s nice still to get that feeling.

Valentino Rossi will be another one – I say ‘will be’ as I’ve still not met him, we’ve only had contact from social media. I love my MotoGP and he’s just on another level. There was a chance for me to go to Misano the week before we raced at Singapore, but that’s a home race for him and that would be pretty intense! That’s not the one to go and meet him. So one day, that’ll happen – I hope so anyway. What a legend …

The last f-word? Form. It’s sometimes hard to get a handle on a driver’s form in F1 – it’s not like, say, tennis, where if someone’s in a groove serving or nailing their passing shots, then that’s pretty obvious for the people watching. As a driver, you can feel like you’re in a good space and the car isn’t up to it, or the other way around is also true. All this year, I’ve felt pretty good, and that’s definitely ramped up lately. I’m in a good place out of the car, feel fit, and my confidence is up. The car has made some great progress, the momentum has risen and there’s been a good run of podiums lately. Max has given the team a push too, there’s no denying that.

I’ve definitely felt ‘on’ lately, and that’s not just because of Malaysia. Winning again after a long drought didn’t change my confidence or self-belief – with both of those things, I think they’re at a level where they needed to be even before the win. You don’t want those things to go too crazy – I think you can end up getting a bit complacent if that happens. But the win felt good and in a way, was a bit of a relief. My confidence has been at a solid level for a while now and that’s helping me, so I won’t change my approach just because of a win. It felt different (and pretty cool) coming to Suzuka as the guy who’d won the most recent race, but as soon as I got in the car in Japan, it was straight back to business.

Japan was just one of those races, unfortunately. I did what I could, but it was circumstances as much as anything. Unfortunately (Kimi) Raikkonen’s gearbox penalty was the opposite of a blessing in disguise, because it put me on the wet part of the grid from the dry side as I moved up a position, and we lost out a bit there. Just unlucky. Hamilton had a poor start right in front of me, mine was a bit better, but I had to manoeuvre around him, and that pretty much shaped my race. With the straight-line speed, we struggled a bit, but also following cars close, we couldn’t really save the tyres to really launch an attack. You’d make one step forward and then another back. Finally at the end we had a clear track for the last stint and I was able to put in some times, but by then it was too little, too late. I was just a bit lonely out there trying to do my thing!

Austin is next, and I’m going to officially diet for the next week so I can get stuck into some barbeque when I get there. I’ll be looking to drive fast, enjoy plenty of barbeque and see some live music. Should be fun. I’m still not sure if I’m growing the traditional Austin moustache yet either. I’m dabbling with a few ideas, I’ll say that …

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