Daniel Ricciardo writes about a post-win celebration that wasn’t, marvels at Valentino Rossi, and weighs in on Hamilton v Vettel in Baku.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
Things I didn’t expect to do at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Win it. If I’d have thought I was a chance of a victory, I would have planned something better than what happened afterwards. As celebrations go, it wasn’t particularly high up there – but I couldn’t help it.
I finished the race, did the podium, walked into about two hours of media, then went straight to the charter flight with the team that had been waiting for me to finally stop talking. We took off, straight back to England, and I was checking in where we stay at Milton Keynes near the factory around 2am Monday morning, which was probably 5am Baku time. Tried to get some sleep, mostly failed because my mind was still ticking over thinking about the day, and then I was at the factory at 9am in the simulator for a 10-hour day. This F1 thing is pretty glamorous, don’t you think? Saying that, if someone was to say ‘you can win this weekend, but you still have to do simulator on Monday’, sign me up. Every time.
It’s been a week or so since Azerbaijan, but I’m struggling to remember any race I’ve done that was as crazy as Baku was. It got to the point where we’d done that many re-starts and that much had happened – every two laps it seemed like my race engineer Simon (Rennie) was on the radio telling me something had happened to someone else – that anything seemed possible. When I got up to third and Lewis (Hamilton) and Seb (Vettel) were in front, I was anticipating a penalty for Seb for what happened with Lewis – don’t worry, I’ll get to that – so I figured second would be great. Then Simon tells me Lewis has a loose headrest, of all things, and has to pit. You seriously couldn’t make it up. And there I am in first.
I was pretty stoked that I was leading, but there was half the race to go, and you figure that everyone else has been having dramas, so my next one can’t be far off. I’d had to pit earlier than I wanted because of the debris I picked up from (Kimi) Raikkonen’s front wing early on that sent the brake temps through the roof, but surely something else was going to happen, wasn’t it? But it didn’t, and after all that, I’d won my fifth Grand Prix. When they crossed to me in the car on the slow-down lap, I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, what was I supposed to say after that? Even if I’d finished fifth, I would have come out of that one with a massive smile on my face.
Everyone wanted to talk and re-watch the pass I did to get up to third after the re-start when I got past the two Williams boys, and it was definitely one I enjoyed, and one that set the win up for me in the end. The funny part about it was that I’d actually discussed doing it before it happened. We were in the red flag period and I said to my trainer Stu (Smith) that I thought third might be on at turn one at the re-start, and he didn’t disagree. I guess I was committed to going for it even before I got back in the car! Definitely a sweet one to pull off, and at the time I thought that might have set up third for me, so I was stoked with that. It got better though …
What’s weird is that I’ve won five races now, but haven’t qualified well for any of them – I was 10th in Baku after stuffing up qualifying and sticking the car in the wall, and all five of them have been from outside the top three on the grid. Maybe qualifying is over-rated? But in all seriousness, in all five of those races, something has happened where a chance to get up there has presented itself, and I’m not going to let that go if it happens. It’d be nice to know what it must be like to qualify on pole and then disappear and win by 20 seconds, but all of them have been about seizing an opportunity. The races that I’ve won have all been exciting races, and when I got the call to box about five laps in or so, I thought I was done and I’d probably be retiring, a bit like I did in Russia when the brakes were on fire. Definitely thought it would be a DNF.
The big talking point out of the race was the incident with Lewis and Seb – told you I’d come back to that – and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. So here’s mine. There’s a view going around that Seb got off lightly with the penalty he got, but to me, that’s only because he ended up beating Lewis, and that only happened because Lewis had his own issues with the headrest. If that hadn’t happened and Lewis won, which he looked like was going to, and Seb was, say, fifth or something, then there wouldn’t be as much noise about it. For me, a 10-second stop-go penalty, the one Seb got, is the biggest penalty you can have without being black-flagged. There’s no bigger time penalty because you lose 20 seconds in the pits, and then you have to be stationary for 10 seconds. A light penalty in my view would have been if the stewards had added 10 seconds to his race time at the end, and I would have agreed that a penalty like that wouldn’t have been enough. But I thought what they did was fine, and I don’t think what he did was enough to be disqualified. So for me, it was the right penalty. What he did wasn’t right, but it wasn’t dangerous – we were doing 40km/h – so it was more silly than anything. It’s done, and I don’t think it should drag out any more. Somehow I reckon it might get discussed in Austria though!
I got some downtime eventually on the Wednesday after Baku, and got to spend some time at home training and do some stuff for my birthday on the weekend, so that was cool. Turning 28? Yeah, not unhappy with that. But it did get me thinking about one of my favourite sportspeople and one of my favourite sports – Valentino Rossi and MotoGP. He’s 10 years older than me, and someone told me that the span between his first win and his most recent one at Assen (the same day we raced at Baku) was 21 years. 21 years! The winning – and he’s clearly done heaps of that – is one thing, but he’s an inspiration even just from a physical standpoint. MotoGP is such a physical sport (not to mention the injuries you put up with), so for him to still be doing it the way he is and to be right up near the front in the championship again – it’s pretty remarkable.
Mentally, he clearly hasn’t been ground down by the travel, the off the bike stuff, the commitments outside of racing, and that’s almost as impressive. For me, when the day comes one day (hopefully not for a fair while!) that I stop, I reckon it’ll be the fatigue with the whole circus and wanting to lay low for a bit and not see an airport that would be more of a factor than physical fatigue or losing that thrill of competition or driving these cars. With Valentino, what amazes me is that I know the commitments I have and how busy life can be, and if you multiplied that by 50 (or probably more), that’s him. Combine that with the physical side and how he’s racing against guys a generation younger than him and he’s still right up there, he just amazes me.
Anyway, I’ve got off-topic a bit. There’s a race this weekend, and given it’s Austria we’ll be pretty busy, which is cool. Baku was such a crazy race that it’s hard to read too much into the performance side of things, but we were more competitive even when things were more normal on Friday, and I reckon we’ve made a step. But in saying that, I reckon Mercedes gave us a look at what they might have up their sleeve in Baku when (Valtteri) Bottas was chasing down (Lance) Stroll in those last few laps. When he turned up the wick, that thing absolutely flew, and they probably still have a chunk of time over us, nobody is denying that. But things are getting better for us, and we have a few updates coming for Silverstone and a few again for Budapest. I’m hopeful that, with a combination of the Budapest track suiting us and some improvements on the car, we can be competitive there. And if there’s any more craziness to take advantage of, then I’ll be in there again …