The Dan Diaries: A whole new challenge

In his first driver column for 2017, Daniel Ricciardo talks about the demands of the new F1 machines, and why a gruelling off-season training regimen was worth it.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Let’s cut to the chase here. It’s what you all want to know, right? Are the 2017 Formula One cars that much different from last year? Are they that much more challenging for us drivers? And where do Red Bull sit compared to the others? Last answer first (I’ll get to the others): I’m not 100 per cent sure, and nobody will be until we hit qualifying in Melbourne. Same as every year. Are we going to win in Australia by two laps? No, much as that would be awesome (I’ll take it if anyone’s offering …). But we’re going to be pretty competitive. And now that I’ve had a chance to sample the new cars, I’m looking forward more than usual to my home GP.

There’s definitely no easing straight back into work when pre-season testing kicks off. The days at the circuit are pretty long – we were getting to the track at 7am, we were on track until 6pm, and then I’d do media and debriefs with the team until 9.30pm, so they’re long days. We had a few issues pop up on the days I was in the car, so I haven’t done a full race distance yet – the most laps I did in one stint was 18. But I know enough to know what these cars are going to be like, and my enthusiasm is pretty high, not that it was lacking before …

On the first day it was a bit too early to say whether the new cars really ticked all of the boxes the rule changes had in mind, but by my second day in the car, day three, I think I realised more of the potential of what these cars could be. Made me realise that the high-speed corners will be as quick as they’ve ever been, maybe even quicker. Take Turn 3 at Barcelona for example, and we weren’t exactly cruising through there before … Turn 3 last week was completely flat, no lift off the throttle at all.

I haven’t compared last year’s data to this year’s, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we were 35-40km/h quicker through there, and it was already a 220km/h corner last year with a big lift … It’s a big jump, not a gradual one, and things will be coming at us pretty quickly at some circuits, that’s for sure. It’s going to increase everything – the intensity, the physicality, the fatigue factor, and I welcome that. It’s cool, and it’s what Formula One should be. We’ll all adapt, but there’s no masking that it’ll be a much more physical task this year, and that’s good for the fans and for us drivers.

Now that I have a taste for the 2017 car, I keep thinking of some of the other tracks we go to and what will be a big challenge for us. Sector two at Spa, downhill, Pouhon … that’s one of my favourite corners anyway, and we’ll have a chance to be full throttle through there – how good will that be! If we have a headwind into any of the big corners we come across, it makes a massive difference as to how full on the throttle we can be. Albert Park in a few weeks will be different because it’s a lot more stop-start than Barcelona is, but across the back of the circuit at the chicane, that’ll be pretty lively. The first part will be maybe a little downshift into sixth, the second part might be an upshift into seventh. A good place to be watching, I reckon. Mid-200s through there – the high-speed stuff is going to keep me pretty excited this year!

Preparing for these cars has been a lot of fun, because it meant I could really get after the physical training side in the off-season rather than just top up and keep things at a certain level because the physical challenge wasn’t as great, or because we didn’t want to put weight on that we didn’t need. I had a small break over Christmas, and then it was to the US to really get into the prep for the season, and we went pretty hard.

The emphasis was much more on the strength side of things, working on the core, the neck, that sort of thing. We looked back at last year’s program and didn’t just try to go as hard or a little bit better, we went a lot harder to prepare for what we thought these cars would be like. We went more for strength stuff in the gym, and I figure the cardio side will come when we get more laps in the car and get used to that. It’s hard to make big gains in strength once the season starts, because it’s so hard to get a block of training in because we’re busy and always on the move somewhere. So January was pretty gruelling physically, but so much more fun to train more for a purpose rather than just ticking things over. Because it’s difficult physically, mentally it sharpens you up. I was really happy with how it went – tired, for sure, but satisfied too.

Coming to the first test of the year has changed a bit for me as my career has gone on. In the past it was close to 100 per cent excitement, but now it’s as much curiosity as excitement. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still excitement, but when you’re in a top team, the expectations change, and you’re impatient to get an initial feeling of if you can meet those expectations. Imagine you’re in a team that would be stoked to be, say, fourth in the constructors’ – your feeling about testing is definitely different than when you’re in a team that makes it clear it’s in it to win races, championships, everything. So I’m more curious to know how the car is, how I’m driving, whether I’m rusty or not.

Up until maybe three years ago, every time I hopped back in a car after Christmas I’d think it felt weird, and I wondered if I still remembered how to drive one of these things … Nowadays it feels more normal, so while that nervous excitement is gone, it’s more curiosity – what do I have underneath me, how’s the initial feeling, what does the team think? And then getting back to the factory between tests to go to meetings, spend time in the simulator, getting ready for the next test this week. We finished the test in Barcelona on Thursday, and by 9am Friday morning, it was back in the simulator at Milton Keynes to get ready for the next one.

It’s an intense time, and then comes Melbourne, speaking of intense … The first race of the year would be intense anywhere, and when it comes with such a big change to the cars, and add that there’s one Aussie on the grid – yeah, it’ll be a full-on week. But I think the fans are going to seriously enjoy these cars, and we’ll enjoy pushing them to get the season started properly. Can’t wait.

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