In his first driver column of 2018, Daniel Ricciardo gets set for the first test in Spain, offers his thoughts on the halo, and reveals why Red Bull will be ready to charge from day one.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
So how was your break from Formula One? Mine – pretty good. Really good. I was definitely pretty tired when last year ended, so the break was great – maybe I would have just stayed in Oz if I’d already won a world championship and never come back … no, just kidding. Now that I’m back in Europe, there’s some energy back and things are about to get busy. Which I’m looking forward to.
I spent December and most of January between Perth, some time in New Zealand to go to Brendon Hartley’s wedding and see some of the North Island for the first time (go if you haven’t been before, I really enjoyed it over there), and then to what’s becoming my favourite place away from home, California. Did about 10 days in NZ and the US, and then it was back to work, sort of. Being back in Europe after summer in Oz was the usual shock, but I was able to get to Milton Keynes to get into the factory nice and early.
But back to that break, while I’m hanging onto the memories of it … We’re racing until late November now and we have commitments through the early part of December, but I’m able to switch off pretty quickly afterwards as soon as I get on the plane to head back to Perth. The time zone is what makes that work; instantly I’m in a space where when Europe is asleep, I’m awake, and the reverse when Europe is up.
The physical distance is one thing, and the time of day the other. I’m pretty adamant that my phone goes off at night anyway, so I can’t be disturbed even if people want to disturb me. And then not being on a timetable is what makes me relax. Especially on a race weekend – time is so valuable that the day is literally broken down into 10-minute blocks where you’re doing something or being somewhere. So waking up in the morning in Perth and not knowing what you’ll be doing for the rest of the day – and not caring either – is what helps me to recover the energy the travel and everything else takes out of you.
That extends to my training too. For all of December, I’ve found that, for me, it works best that I give myself a break from the training I do all year. There’ll be some incidental exercise when you’re out riding dirt bikes or whatever and being active, but nothing structured. It means I can hit things hard in January when I get back to it and have the enthusiasm to get after it again. Once the calendar flips, it’s time to get into it. So that feeling of being a bit weightless, for lack of a better description, and completely switching off for a few weeks is nice.
There’s always plenty to do before we officially launch the car, and I was able to get ahead of things a bit with some days in the simulator, my seat fit and all of those things. And, of course, getting used to the halo, which of course will be a big talking point when we all rock up for testing, and then even more once we get to Melbourne.
So what’s the initial verdict on the halo? You know, I think it’s going to be alright. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love the look of it, but I think it’ll be fine and we’ll have other things to talk about pretty quickly, especially once the racing starts and we have the championship beginning to take shape. One thing that’s become obvious already is that getting into the car is going to take some getting used to, because it’s very different. I might need to do some yoga or something to become more flexible! But as far as how it looks, I think people are going to get used to the halo pretty quickly and we won’t talk about it for too long. Remember back in 2009, the year that Brawn won the championship, and the cars that year looked so different with the small rear wings, almost like F3 cars? People threw their hands up and talked about it a lot at the start, but then we all got used to it and just moved on. I reckon the 2009 look was more dramatic than the halo and how long it’ll take people to get used to it.
The first pre-season test is coming up in Barcelona in a few days, and from our side, it feels like we’re more ready than we’ve been in the past few years – and there’s a reason for that. This year, the team is consciously making sure the car is ready before we head there and, if you like, not getting too greedy with using every last second we have beforehand to get more and more things on the car, and then get to the track less prepared than we’d like.
We’ve had some pretty slow pre-seasons the past few years where we haven’t got off to great starts, so the focus has been more on making sure the car is ready before we go to the test so we can make sure we know the car is going to run, and that we can tick a lot more boxes before we get out on track. We have a week between our launch of RB14 and the filming day we had at Silverstone on Monday before we get out there in Barcelona, so that’ll help us be even more ready.
The team has made a point of being ready earlier this year, so we can potentially get more out of Barcelona, and then get more out of the first few flyaways. If that gives us a stronger pre-season and we can take that into the first four races and not feel like we’re playing catch-up or chasing ourselves because we left things so late, then that’s a move in the right direction, I think.
It’s always a good feeling to get back into the car for the first time in a long while – I’ve not driven since the test after Abu Dhabi, which was about 12 weeks ago – and so there’s the excitement of being in a new car and that curiosity of how that new car feels, and how your body pulls up after that first day when you’re naturally going to be a bit sore from readjusting. That’s cool, but it’s fleeting – once you’ve done the first day in testing, your eyes and body are back into it, and there’s always a part of me that wishes I could snap my fingers and be on the grid on Sunday in Melbourne … Driving is nice, sure, but I’m ready for some competition pretty quickly.
Before I go, I wanted to say a few words on the passing of Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker last month, and everything he did for the sport back home. Even having the race in Melbourne … everything he did to even make that happen will be one of his many legacies.
Australia opening the calendar as we do, you can’t underestimate how big of a deal that is for our country and our sport to have that, and he’s a huge part of why we have it. He was so well respected by everyone in F1 through all age groups – drivers, managers, team bosses, everyone who comes down to Oz – and was always a presence, someone who’d come over to chat, someone who’d be active with what was happening on race weekend. He helped our sport in Australia massively.