The Dan Diaries: Bigger in America

In his latest exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo talks Austin, F1’s future and pays tribute to a fellow Aussie.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s official. America does it better. It was great to be back in Austin last weekend, and I couldn’t resist staying an extra day or two afterwards – there’s always more live music to see, and there’s always more barbeque to eat! And the Americans just do sport so well, so it was good to get another podium in the ‘States after getting one in 2014. It’s definitely one of the highlight races of the year.

Finishing on the podium was still pretty good with the Mercedes guys, even though I would have been happier if I’d split them, which is how it looked like panning out for a while there. To win at the moment and beat them is probably going to require a chunk of luck, so whether it’s second or third, at least it’s still a podium at this stage. At the time, during the race when the virtual safety car came out, I was frustrated that it made the back part of the race a bit predictable. I never did get to have the fight with (Nico) Rosberg for second that it looked like we might have. He probably would have caught me at some point, but we never got a chance to have the fight, and I never got the chance to get my elbows out. If we have the fight and he beats me, I’m not going to be happy about it, but at least we would have had the fight. The VSC changed all that, so third was as good as it was going to get.

The Evel Knievel helmet for the weekend was cool, don’t you reckon? A few months ago I spoke to the helmet painter and said that I wanted to do something cool for Austin, something really American, the stars and stripes or something pretty badass. And then we came up with the Evel Knievel style and I thought ‘yes, that’s perfect’. Really happy with how it turned out, and I definitely got some comments about it.

Third in Austin made it seven podiums for the year – I had eight in 2014 so there’s still time to beat that – and six of them in the last eight races, so it’s been good to be on a roll. I’m pretty close to wrapping up third in the drivers’ championship again, and while you never go into any season saying ‘I really want to finish third’, it’s good to be there. I finished third in 2014 as well and that was pretty significant because I was kind of unproven then, and that year it put me in front of Seb (Sebastian Vettel), who was the defending world champion, and a few others as well. But this year has been good because at the start of it, I didn’t expect to be able to finish third.

Of course you always want to win, but I’m kind of proud of being third, or being that next guy behind the Mercedes guys. If I was to lose third in the last few races for whatever reason, I would actually be quite disappointed. Third will be a pretty strong achievement from both sides, for me and the team. For moments, and the three wins, 2014 was bigger, but for myself and my self-evaluation, 2016 has been better. Third is pretty decent when you consider what Mercedes has been doing to everyone else – someone told me that they’d won 48 out of the 56 races so far since the start of 2014! Four for me, three for Seb, one for Max (Verstappen), and they’ve got the rest!

The Austin podium was cool, but the other thing that got me before the race was the national anthem – it’s one of the more powerful ones there is, and once the guy finished singing it last Sunday, I gave him the nod, like ‘yep, you nailed that’. It fires you up, for sure. I’m a big fan of UFC, NASCAR, other American sports, and they just do the whole ‘show’ side of sport so well. As a kid, at least for me, a lot of the big sporting events I watched were American events, so when you grow up and see them yourself, or be in the middle of them, then that’s pretty cool.

It’s that ‘show’ side of things that makes me interested in what impact Liberty Media coming in on the ownership side of things will have because of their involvement in American sport. I’m not going to pretend I know all of what’s going on behind the scenes with Liberty Media – I’m aware of it – but I’m definitely curious to know what ideas they have. I think there’ll be a couple of changes here and there, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be for the best.

One thing that might come up for discussion is the length of races, and I saw that Jenson (Button) came out last weekend and said that maybe F1 should consider shorter races. It’s something I used to think about early in my F1 career when I was at the back and driving around by myself – some of those races definitely seemed too long then! If they were a bit shorter, I can’t see a downside to it. Say if a 50-lap race became 40 laps, that wouldn’t be a problem at all, and maybe the spectators would get more out of that. Look at something like MotoGP, which I’m a big fan of – their races go for 45 minutes or so and they’re super intense, so maybe there’s something in that. Very rarely do you ever feel like a MotoGP race is dragging. With a shorter F1 race you could increase the intensity – I can’t see any downsides to it. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any changes down the track, but if that happened, I’d be up for it.

It’s off to Mexico now, and it’s hard to choose which podium would be the best to be on in F1 – it’s either there or Monza, and I’ve not been on either of them! Mexico looked phenomenal last year and if I could get a podium there, I’d be pretty pumped. The stadium section there is ridiculous. The drivers’ parade there last year was something else – I wanted to soak it in, but I felt I needed to record some of it too so people could see what it was like from where I was sitting. Just insane. Really looking forward to it, as it felt like the whole country gave us a huge reception last year.

One quick one before I sign off for this week – I wanted to say a few words about Mark Webber, who announced he was stepping away from the World Endurance Championship since I last wrote. I was in the crowd as a little curly-haired teenager when he made his F1 debut in that Minardi in Melbourne back in 2002, so to be on the grid with him a few years later, then to take the seat at Red Bull that he had for so long – I’m proud to have taken that seat and done well with it after what he’d done for himself and for Australia. He got so much support from Australia, and then I was able to carry on with that. It’s not often people have a successful career after F1, so for him to take that WEC championship last year, he couldn’t have asked for much more. I’m sure he has a lot to do after his career, and I definitely wish him all the best. He has a lot to be proud of.

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