The Dan Diaries: Aiming for gains

Daniel Ricciardo writes about the lessons learned from the first four races of the year, and why everyone in F1 is talking about Fernando Alonso and the Indy 500.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s been a while since we did one of these, but things have been a bit busy, so that’s my excuse. Since Australia, it seems like we’ve been on the road the whole time. With Spain coming up next and Monaco after that – which means I get to sleep in my own bed – there won’t be as much time on the road. Which will balance out the crazy schedule I’ve kept this week since Russia.

We had the race last Sunday in Sochi, and then things got hectic – I managed to do five flights in 36 hours or so! I went from Sochi straight after the race to Budapest for a show car run on the Monday, and from there it was Salzburg for a night, then to Graz, then to Milton Keynes and the Red Bull Racing factory for a day in the simulator, and then back to Nice and home. So there’s been a bit going on after I basically had last Sunday off.

Russia was a bit of a non-event for me unfortunately, and I was actually pretty surprised when someone told me that being out after five laps was the earliest I’ve ever retired from a race in all my time in F1. I’m not even sure there were two flying laps after the safety car on lap one and then my brakes catching fire and having to come in. So it was weird being at an F1 race and it going on around me, and I wasn’t in it. I didn’t enjoy it a lot …

What do you do when you’re out of a race that early? I actually didn’t have any idea what you were supposed to do. Is there a procedure you’re supposed to follow? Is there a list of things you have to do? There wasn’t much to debrief, and it wasn’t like I needed an ice bath or to be rehydrated or anything. I got changed, did my media commitments, chatted to my physio Sam (Village), and then went to the garage to watch the race. I ended up watching the whole thing standing up, mostly because I had way too much energy because I was still jacked up and hadn’t used any of it in the race. It was a weird thing, you spend the whole day building up and trying to store energy so you can peak for that 90 minutes of the race, and then you don’t get to use all of that adrenaline. So yeah, it sucked alright, and I actually felt a bit confused! Here’s hoping I don’t have to do that again for a while.

It’s been a mixed start to the season for me – a fourth and a fifth which were OK, and a couple of retirements, which isn’t what you ever want. We’ve all got a good idea of where we stand now, and I know we still need to see where we are in Barcelona, but unfortunately we’re too far away from the front at the moment. Even if we have a good update in Barcelona, it’s hard to see how that instantly puts us on the top step, and we all know that. It could take a little while for us to be able to fight for some wins, but we’re optimistic we can make up some good ground.

It’s frustrating that we’ve started a bit further back than what we hoped we would, but more generally it’s positive for the sport that we don’t have Mercedes dominating by two seconds a lap again and there’s some competition up front with Ferrari giving them a hard time. That’s definitely a good sign for the sport based on what has happened the last few years – it’d be nice if we can join in though, and I’m optimistic we can.

I’ve definitely got a feel for the new cars now too, and the one thing I can absolutely say is that they’re way more fun when you’re driving by yourself over one lap, in qualifying when everything’s turned up, you’re on low fuel and you’re really pushing. From the physical side and as a challenge, that’s great. The racing though – I’m still not sure.

Passing or getting close to another car to pass is definitely more difficult, and there’ll be some tracks that lend themselves more to that than others of course, but the main issue is that because the cars are wider and they take up more space on the track, it’s harder to get clean air and some empty track to get a bit more downforce on your car. Little things like that make a huge difference, and I reckon all of us drivers would agree that it’s easier to defend now, but harder to follow. It’s not like the cars are massively wider, but when you think of that extra width as a percentage of the racing line we’ve been used to – it’s a big change. When you’re taking away width from what was a narrow racing line to start with, it makes a big difference.

We’re bringing a pretty significant upgrade to Spain and that’s been spoken about a lot, and you can be sure all of the other teams will be pushing like crazy too. That’s something I’ve noticed since I’ve been with a big team like Red Bull, you normally go to Spain with pretty much a different car. So it’ll be a reset for us to get a read as to how much improving we need to do. There’s no magic bullet in F1 that’s going to see us start winning every race from here, that sort of thing just doesn’t exist. So I’m hoping we can be pleasantly surprised with any gains we make next weekend. Spain will probably shape the season from Barcelona until Budapest and the mid-year break, so it’s an important one for us to get as right as we can.

Outside of the racing and everyone being away from their bases with the flyaways, the biggest story in F1 lately hasn’t had anything to do with F1 at all – I’m talking about Fernando (Alonso) doing the Indy 500. It just created a massive amount of hype when the news came out and was all everyone was talking about for a while there. When you think about it, he’s about to do his first IndyCar race on an oval, and not just any oval, the most famous oval of all on the most famous weekend in oval racing anywhere – it’s pretty massive. Just a cool sporting story.

I love Indy, but if I’m being completely honest, it scares me. So for him to go and do that for his first time on an oval, wow. As long as I had the right preparation before I jumped in the deep end, I’d be up for an IndyCar race on a road course, but an oval, I reckon I’d be more up for a NASCAR. When you think of all the steps he has to do, the rookie orientation practice, the learning to run in traffic on an oval – it’s very intense and a very big deal. You have to give him all the credit in the world for having a crack. All I know is that there’ll be a lot more F1 people than usual who end up watching Indy this year to see how he goes – we need to find someone who has a massive TV so we can watch the race Sunday night after we’re done at Monaco. I guarantee you we’ll all be watching to see how he goes, and anyone who loves motorsport will be too.

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