The Dan Diaries: My best year yet

In his final driver column for the year, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo talks about the moments that made his 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The season is over, but the season is still going – that’s how it feels anyway. We might have officially finished on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, but it hasn’t really stopped since then. Tuesday we had a tyre test for Pirelli, and then Wednesday I travelled back to the UK to spend Thursday at the factory with the team and in the simulator. Then Vienna on Friday for the FIA prizegiving, where the top three drivers in the championship get their trophies. I have commitments right up until the 16th of December back home in Oz, and then I’m completely off from then. So it’s been busy, but I guess being busy means you’ve had a good year, so I’ll definitely take that.

We knew going into 2016 that it was the longest season ever with 21 races and whatnot, but it’s definitely felt like that the last couple of races. I was going alright energy-wise until I got to Brazil, and then you realise that it’s all catching up with you. More races is cool and everything, but it’s the other things once you get out of Europe and head to all the flyaways, back-to-backs, the time away from home … it’ll be good to get that downtime.

You get smarter with how you handle the back-end of the season, and my approach has definitely changed over the years. Before I got to F1 it was train every day, train as hard as you can and work as hard as you can, but with 21 races these days, there’s no way you can do that. Pre-season is the time of the year when you can set yourself up for what’s coming, and I hit it hard then. I then have a proper training block or training camp in August after our mid-year break, and the rest of the time you’re just managing, taking care of yourself without over-training. Mondays after races now, I do absolutely nothing. Recharging is more important than squeezing in another session. This year we had Canada straight before Baku, a back-to-back, so that was pretty hardcore with the travel time and time zone changes, probably the hardest one we’ve done. So more races are fun, but how you handle them means you need to change the way you think a bit.

I’m actually looking forward to getting back into the training because of the rule changes next year and that the cars are going to be a fair bit quicker in the corners. We’ll have to change some things up in the preparation, and the in-season training will change too – in the past few years we’ve concentrated on things like trimming weight and keeping kilos off, and the training itself isn’t that challenging. Next year will be different. Being able to put on some strength and muscle will be more challenging and more rewarding, so I’m up for that. I’m all for making it harder! Time to unlock the hidden Honey Badger …

Abu Dhabi was a pretty weird race in the end because of how slow the pace was at the front with Lewis (Hamilton) trying to bring the others into play with Nico (Rosberg). I didn’t make a great start from third, locked up at the first corner and dropped behind Kimi (Raikkonen), and right through the first stint my engineer Simon (Rennie) was asking me how the tyres were. I had a flat-spot on the fronts but that was fine, but the rears were wearing more than the fronts were. I could see Kimi in front of me was struggling more than I was, and as soon as he pitted I went half a second faster, but then I came in too. In hindsight with how the race played out, I could have probably done with staying out longer in that first stint. But that’s how it shook out.

There was some discussion afterwards with what Lewis had done, driving slower than he could have, but it seemed pretty obvious to most of us that if he got the start, that’s what he was going to do. (Team principal) Christian (Horner) even said that in the press a few days before. So the race pace was always going to be slow, and maybe we overlooked that in terms of how we approached it. By the end, after the final stops, the front five all bunched up because of how slow Lewis was going – his last lap was nine seconds slower than his pole lap! In the end, Nico finished where he needed to finish to take the title.

I joined in with some of Nico’s celebrations on Sunday night, and you have to take your hat off to him. He’d shown the speed over the last few years, but this year he sorted out the head game more and converted more of his good Saturdays into good Sundays, and he got the ultimate reward for that. That was the main difference compared to the last few years that got him over the line. Brazil for example, in those conditions – it would have been so easy for someone with the championship lead to drop it and feel the pressure, but he kept a cool head. He definitely did well. I made sure he had some tequila on Sunday night – and out of his own shoe this time, not mine!

I knew I was going to end up in third overall after Mexico and that podium that I inherited a few hours after that race with all of the penalties, so I maybe didn’t have as much to play for in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. I finished third in 2014 of course and won three times that year and just once this time, but this year feels better, feels more convincing. Feels more sustainable too. 2014, it was hard to fault that, but this year I felt like I did everything I did in ’14, but at a higher level when I really pushed myself.

There were races this year when Max (Verstappen) was half a second quicker than me in Q1 and Q2 and it seemed like ‘wow, he’s going to blow me away in Q3’, and then I’d pull out a lap that was three, four-tenths quicker. I was able to find some pretty good levels through the year, and there were quite a few times that I was able to exceed my own expectations for what I thought I could do, maybe even surprise myself a bit.

There were a few big qualifyings this year – China was one that comes to mind – and Barcelona and Monaco, they were both awesome. Monaco was the best of them though, and that pole lap on the Saturday is probably the strongest memory of the year, maybe even more than winning in Malaysia. I get so excited about driving around Monaco. I’d said quietly to my trainers and some people around me that pole there was one that I was really chasing, and to get it after I’d put some pressure on myself, that was pretty cool. Tabac, into the Swimming Pool section there – that five seconds of qualy was the best five seconds of the year! Good motivation for next year too.

It’s not long until I’m back home now, and I can’t wait. It’s little things that I get to experience again in the off-season that make me realise why I love being home when I can be. My mates treating me like an idiot, basically, just being one of the boys. Aussie accents and banter. My mates still giving me heaps about not being able to tighten a bolt even though I’m driving the most sophisticated race cars in the world. Give me a set of spanners, and I’m hopeless. And walking around in no shoes in an Aussie summer! Get up, singlet on, swim shorts, no shoes, done. Super, super low-key. Makes me feel like I’m at home and on holiday, and I’m definitely hanging out for that. I’ll speak to you on the other side.

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