Driver diary

The Dan Diaries: Why Monaco is magic

Daniel Ricciardo writes about the most famous F1 race of all – and why street circuits sort out the men from the boys.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s about to be the busiest week of the year with Monaco this weekend, which is why I’m spending some time now just cruising, chilling at home in my apartment, and waiting for the chaos to begin! But the chaos is definitely cool, and it’s the one race of the year that the time before you get out on track for first practice can’t go quickly enough.

I’ve lived here now since the middle of 2013, and there’s definitely no other week like the race week. Monaco changes so much from what it normally is that I hardly recognise the place to be honest. It feels like a real race track, and I’m not thinking ‘there’s a cafe I eat at’ or ‘there’s a street I ride my Vespa down’ or whatever. All these restaurants and bars have pop-ups that just emerge for the week, and with all of the road closures, it doesn’t really feel like home at all, even though you’re at home surrounded by your own stuff. The boats in the harbour get bigger too, not that they’re ever that small here …

The logistics of the whole event are pretty unreal too when you think of what a small space it is. The Porsche support paddock is near where I live, and the World Series paddock is on the other side of Monaco altogether. There’s cars stashed all around the city, which is kinda cool. It always amazes me how fast everything gets packed up afterwards too. The grandstands, those guys don’t muck around – give it a week or two after the race, and things are more or less back to normal, which is pretty impressive.

Probably the weirdest thing for me with Monaco is the routine you get into for the weekend when you live here. You wake up in your own bed, kick around your apartment and then start the journey to work. Walk down to the port, get onto a boat, and then onto the Energy Station which is Red Bull’s base for the weekend. It’s a nice way to get to work! It’s the little things like that that mean I can’t ever see the novelty of Monaco wearing off on race week. I’ve done F1 for a few years now and there are things like, say, testing, where it doesn’t give you the excitement it once did. But Monaco on race week – you’d never take it for granted.

Thursday practice is all about recalibrating your brain to just how tight this place is, getting your eyes to adjust to seeing barriers and not grass or gravel run-offs. I always think that some drivers are born with some street circuit abilities and are confident, and others aren’t. The first time I ever did a street circuit was in Macau, and I really didn’t know what sort of driver I’d be – I’d either be shit-scared of walls, or love them! But I loved them straight away. When one driver would, say, clip a barrier and not want to do that again, I’d be more like ‘let’s do that again if it makes my lap faster’. Walking that tightrope is just so cool. But Thursday at Monaco has to be a gradual process. You need as much track time as you can get, so going too hard too early and smashing up the car can ruin the whole weekend, so you build and build as the sessions go on. The idea is that by Saturday afternoon in Q3 when you have that one lap to nail it in qualifying, you’re completely ready to push that little bit more.

Picking a favourite part of the track is hard because it’s all so good, but Tabac and the entry to the Swimming Pool section are pretty special. They’re the fastest corners on the track and I like the fast stuff, plus you have to use all of the track. Tabac, the commitment you need is pretty immense, and you see the guys with the confidence on street circuits have the car pinned right up against the outside barrier, whereas some other guys will be half a metre away. And Swimming Pool, jumping across the kerbs … so good. The hardest corner? Turn 1, Sainte Devote, which is why you see a lot of people drop it in the barriers there. It’s tricky, the apex is a bit blind, and you normally get there in qualifying when your tyres are at their coldest. If you lock a brake, you’re in the barrier or have to bail out and go left down the escape road, so your lap is gone. For me, that’s always been the corner on the track where if you get it right, it feels seriously good. It’s the one corner where you always feel you could have got a bit more out of it, but you’re better off being at 98 per cent there than over the top.

Last year I got pole and did a 1min 13.6sec lap, which was seven-tenths faster than I’d done all weekend before that. It was the most intense 73 seconds of the year, and I can remember the lap pretty clearly even now. That first corner, I nailed it in terms of the braking point and not locking a wheel, and I remember getting out of Turn 1 and feeling really confident that something good could be about to happen. When I got to Mirabeau, there’s a banking right on the apex, and your front wheel either drops into it or skates across it. The front wheel dropped perfectly, and that gave me even more confidence. And then the last sector of the lap, it’s the part I like best and where I feel I really come into my own. Add all of that together – it’s my only pole position so it’s not like I have heaps of them to remember, but it was a pretty sweet lap because even now, re-thinking it corner by corner, I can’t see where I could have realistically got much more out of it.

There’s so much going on socially during this week that there’s distractions everywhere if you’re looking for them. I actually find that motivating – there’s all these people here for the show, Monaco is the centre of attention, and I’m in the middle of it – there’s a chance to be the hero of the scene! Every year I have friends who come to this race, and part of me is envious because they’re able to soak the whole experience in. Even if you’re not at the events and the parties, you still feel the atmosphere. The good thing for me is that if I have mates come to other races that are a bit quieter, I worry that maybe they won’t have as much to do and I feel more obliged to make sure they’re having a good time and all of that. Here? I can let them get on with it – point them in the direction of some bars and hopefully join them Sunday night if everything goes like I want it to!

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.

The Dan Diaries: Aussie rules

As he prepares for his home Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo writes about flying the Australian flag on the world stage, and why one Albert Park moment is the highlight of his year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s almost time to get things started properly for the Formula One season in Melbourne, and for my voice, that’s probably a good thing – there’s been a lot of talking this week! Having the first race as your home race is pretty full-on, but in ways, Australia being the first race and the attention that comes my way is actually a good thing. There would be massive interest in the first race anyway no matter where it was – everyone wants to know how your team stacks up against the others, what the rule changes have done over the off-season and whatnot. Adding some extra attention for me because it’s a home race? Tiring, sure, but pretty cool at the same time.

I’m only half-joking when I say that being in the car out on track might be the quietest it gets all week in Melbourne. To give you an idea of how crazy the week is, I flew into Sydney on Monday, and there’ll be things to do and places to be most hours of every day for eight days. They’re big days, but they’re easier for me to handle now because I know what’s coming. I train a bit harder the week before, get pretty obsessive with how hydrated I am, get good sleep. One thing I never forget is that it’s a massive privilege to have a home race as an Australian, and I want to enjoy all of it.

Being one of the few Australians in a properly global sport is a really big deal. It’s probably not something I thought about when I first started in F1 even though I knew there weren’t that many Aussie accents around – I’m much more mindful of it now as I’ve got older. Being older makes you more aware and responsible – that’s what old people always say, right? But I am very aware that in some ways I become a bit of an ambassador for Australia, who we are, what we’re like as people, as we go from one race to another.

What reminds me of the importance of being a good ambassador for us when we’re overseas is when I see other global sports where there aren’t many Aussies involved. For the kids here who are into that sport, that person has a big responsibility. When you’re out of the car, how you portray yourself, how you treat people – all of that is so important. I never feel like I have to try that hard – that old saying of treating people how you want to be treated is so true – but when you’re the one Aussie driver in a global sport, it’s important to do it right.

One of the best moments of my year will happen this weekend, at least based on the last few years. The drivers parade on race day in Melbourne is something that just seems to be better every year. Seriously, it’s almost a bit surreal. There’s just so much to take in and it’s actually very emotional, I’m not going to lie (and I’m not going to cry, don’t worry). You’re made to feel really important, and you definitely get jacked up and want to perform your best. Last year there were people literally running along the fence line with the Aussie flag, yelling my name – I’ve been in F1 a while now, but the intensity of the drivers parade in Albert Park still feels a bit weird, almost like it isn’t real. It’s a massive, massive highlight for me. I was that kid sitting in the grandstands cheering for Mark Webber when I was 12 and he finished fifth for Minardi – to think that people are now shouting my name and cheering for me, it seriously gives you goose bumps.

The race here in 2014 when I came second (I know, I got disqualified, but let’s ignore that) still rates as one of the best things that’s happened to me, even if I didn’t get to keep the trophy. OK, I’ve won races since and all of that, but that day, second place at home, we’d had a terrible pre-season, my first-ever F1 podium (while it lasted) on my first weekend for the team – just crazy really. It was all new to me anyway, and then of all the podiums to step onto … When I walked out there, I was still spinning out in a way, my mind was racing and it was all a bit overwhelming. That noise, the people … when they were playing the national anthem for Nico Rosberg who won, I just kept scanning my eyes from one side of the crowd to the other, taking it all in. This might sound a bit weird in some ways, but that view of the sea of people in Albert Park, I’d actually envisaged that, it was the picture I had in my mind of what that would have looked like if one day I got to stand on the podium at my home race. To actually experience something that seems like it would be unachievable, that’s almost like some sort of dream come true … it felt like something I’d seen before, but even better.

There’s something about the fans here that make me even prouder than I normally am to be Australian, and proud that we have a race here that people are so positive about. There’s so many fans of just racing here, people who love motorsport, who love F1. Yes, they come to support me but they support every team, all the drivers. We’ve got a lot of rev-heads who love the speed of it, the thrill of it. It still amazes me to be honest. And we’re so multicultural here, it’s part of what makes Australia great, and it’s part of the reason we have the fans we have.

I’ve commented about Mexico the past two years since we’ve been going back there as a sport and the fans there, and it’s similar to Australia to me in that they’re passionate about the sport, the fans wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it’s genuine. So, thanks to everyone that’s come to the track already and will come over the next few days. If you’re watching on TV, I feel that support. I appreciate it, we all do. We’ll do our best to give you a good show. Just have to stand on that podium again, I guess …

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.

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.

The Dan Diaries: Bigger in America

In his latest exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo talks Austin, F1’s future and pays tribute to a fellow Aussie.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s official. America does it better. It was great to be back in Austin last weekend, and I couldn’t resist staying an extra day or two afterwards – there’s always more live music to see, and there’s always more barbeque to eat! And the Americans just do sport so well, so it was good to get another podium in the ‘States after getting one in 2014. It’s definitely one of the highlight races of the year.

Finishing on the podium was still pretty good with the Mercedes guys, even though I would have been happier if I’d split them, which is how it looked like panning out for a while there. To win at the moment and beat them is probably going to require a chunk of luck, so whether it’s second or third, at least it’s still a podium at this stage. At the time, during the race when the virtual safety car came out, I was frustrated that it made the back part of the race a bit predictable. I never did get to have the fight with (Nico) Rosberg for second that it looked like we might have. He probably would have caught me at some point, but we never got a chance to have the fight, and I never got the chance to get my elbows out. If we have the fight and he beats me, I’m not going to be happy about it, but at least we would have had the fight. The VSC changed all that, so third was as good as it was going to get.

The Evel Knievel helmet for the weekend was cool, don’t you reckon? A few months ago I spoke to the helmet painter and said that I wanted to do something cool for Austin, something really American, the stars and stripes or something pretty badass. And then we came up with the Evel Knievel style and I thought ‘yes, that’s perfect’. Really happy with how it turned out, and I definitely got some comments about it.

Third in Austin made it seven podiums for the year – I had eight in 2014 so there’s still time to beat that – and six of them in the last eight races, so it’s been good to be on a roll. I’m pretty close to wrapping up third in the drivers’ championship again, and while you never go into any season saying ‘I really want to finish third’, it’s good to be there. I finished third in 2014 as well and that was pretty significant because I was kind of unproven then, and that year it put me in front of Seb (Sebastian Vettel), who was the defending world champion, and a few others as well. But this year has been good because at the start of it, I didn’t expect to be able to finish third.

Of course you always want to win, but I’m kind of proud of being third, or being that next guy behind the Mercedes guys. If I was to lose third in the last few races for whatever reason, I would actually be quite disappointed. Third will be a pretty strong achievement from both sides, for me and the team. For moments, and the three wins, 2014 was bigger, but for myself and my self-evaluation, 2016 has been better. Third is pretty decent when you consider what Mercedes has been doing to everyone else – someone told me that they’d won 48 out of the 56 races so far since the start of 2014! Four for me, three for Seb, one for Max (Verstappen), and they’ve got the rest!

The Austin podium was cool, but the other thing that got me before the race was the national anthem – it’s one of the more powerful ones there is, and once the guy finished singing it last Sunday, I gave him the nod, like ‘yep, you nailed that’. It fires you up, for sure. I’m a big fan of UFC, NASCAR, other American sports, and they just do the whole ‘show’ side of sport so well. As a kid, at least for me, a lot of the big sporting events I watched were American events, so when you grow up and see them yourself, or be in the middle of them, then that’s pretty cool.

It’s that ‘show’ side of things that makes me interested in what impact Liberty Media coming in on the ownership side of things will have because of their involvement in American sport. I’m not going to pretend I know all of what’s going on behind the scenes with Liberty Media – I’m aware of it – but I’m definitely curious to know what ideas they have. I think there’ll be a couple of changes here and there, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be for the best.

One thing that might come up for discussion is the length of races, and I saw that Jenson (Button) came out last weekend and said that maybe F1 should consider shorter races. It’s something I used to think about early in my F1 career when I was at the back and driving around by myself – some of those races definitely seemed too long then! If they were a bit shorter, I can’t see a downside to it. Say if a 50-lap race became 40 laps, that wouldn’t be a problem at all, and maybe the spectators would get more out of that. Look at something like MotoGP, which I’m a big fan of – their races go for 45 minutes or so and they’re super intense, so maybe there’s something in that. Very rarely do you ever feel like a MotoGP race is dragging. With a shorter F1 race you could increase the intensity – I can’t see any downsides to it. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any changes down the track, but if that happened, I’d be up for it.

It’s off to Mexico now, and it’s hard to choose which podium would be the best to be on in F1 – it’s either there or Monza, and I’ve not been on either of them! Mexico looked phenomenal last year and if I could get a podium there, I’d be pretty pumped. The stadium section there is ridiculous. The drivers’ parade there last year was something else – I wanted to soak it in, but I felt I needed to record some of it too so people could see what it was like from where I was sitting. Just insane. Really looking forward to it, as it felt like the whole country gave us a huge reception last year.

One quick one before I sign off for this week – I wanted to say a few words about Mark Webber, who announced he was stepping away from the World Endurance Championship since I last wrote. I was in the crowd as a little curly-haired teenager when he made his F1 debut in that Minardi in Melbourne back in 2002, so to be on the grid with him a few years later, then to take the seat at Red Bull that he had for so long – I’m proud to have taken that seat and done well with it after what he’d done for himself and for Australia. He got so much support from Australia, and then I was able to carry on with that. It’s not often people have a successful career after F1, so for him to take that WEC championship last year, he couldn’t have asked for much more. I’m sure he has a lot to do after his career, and I definitely wish him all the best. He has a lot to be proud of.

The Dan Diaries: Keeping the faith

In his latest exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo opens up about fate, fame and form.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It took me a while – too long really! – but I’ve won another Grand Prix since I last wrote. It’s been a season where Mercedes has dominated again and there’s not been too much opportunity for the rest of us to win, but Malaysia was mine and I took it. I had belief that I’d get a chance this year, so it was nice to be proven right. And it was also nice that – for me anyway – I got a reward for staying true to who I am.

Did winning Malaysia make up for losing Monaco? Well, the feeling of winning is always worth it, but you can’t really compare it or say that it made up for it. What I did feel though was that Monaco probably made my joy bigger in Malaysia because I had to wait longer. It was even a bigger ‘yes!’ than it might have been. And, as you saw, shoeys all round …

Which brings me to the first of this week’s three four-letter f-words – don’t worry, I’m going to keep it clean … The first one: fate. It was interesting to hear some people after Malaysia that I was “always” going get paid back for what happened at Monaco, like it was guaranteed to happen or something. I’m not sure if I believe in fate full stop, but I’ve always been the sort of person who thinks things happen for a reason – not just in racing, but in life as well. Maybe I’m more a believer in karma more than fate.

Monaco happened, of course I was gutted, but it happened. I tried to stay true to my usual approach and I genuinely believed that if I kept up my level of driving this year, it would be very hard for me not to win a race. Sure, I got some good luck in Malaysia with Lewis (Hamilton) retiring, but the record books say ‘how many’ and not ‘how’ – Monaco was like that for him, Malaysia for me. Seems reasonable …

After the win in Malaysia, there’s that period when you’re on the podium that it all goes quiet for a second, and then they play the national anthem. It’s a brief pause and it hits you because everything has been so hyper before that, the end of the race, the jumping around and all of that. Malaysia was exhausting too because of the heat, the intensity of the battle with Max (Verstappen) and whatnot. I was pretty drained, and I got emotional up there as everyone saw. Part of it was the exhaustion, part was that I’d won again after two years. And as you would have seen afterwards, I was definitely thinking of Jules Bianchi – it was the first race I’d won since his accident, we had Suzuka coming up the next week where he had his crash, and I’d always wanted to dedicate something meaningful to him in a way since he passed. That quiet moment on the podium was when those thoughts came flooding in.

People know that Jules and I were mates and we came through the junior categories at the same time, and his death definitely changed me, maybe more than anything that’s happened to me. I wasn’t unappreciative of what I do for a living and F1 before, but after what happened, it made me more grateful for the position I’m in, the sport, what I have. I realised how important it was to enjoy more days in the sport for what they were and not look so far ahead all of the time, which is something a lot of people in F1 do. You can get so caught up in what’s a long way ahead that you don’t appreciate or even consider the journey along the way, and that’s been the biggest lesson I learned from Jules.

It could have been me, any of us, that day in Jules’ shoes. So I vowed after that that if I’m racing, taking the risks we take every time we drive, I’m going to do it properly, get the most out of it. We get to travel the world to race and that’s something we should be taking advantage of, experiencing new things, keeping your eyes open. Maybe it’s because I have some new perspective, maybe it’s just me growing up a bit. But Jules had so much ahead of him and it was taken away, and the lesson that taught me is that you need to live your life, get the best out of it, enjoy each day more.

I ended up in Japan soon after Malaysia, and we had a cool day in Tokyo driving something pretty different before heading to Suzuka. The car definitely turned some heads and the fans were awesome like they always are in Japan.

When we got to Suzuka, that only ramped up. There’s nothing like the fans at Suzuka anywhere, I’m always blown away by the reception all us drivers get, they make us feel like rock stars. Which leads me to fame and the whole concept of that (our second four-letter f-word, if you’re counting).

When I first came into F1, I used to resist the whole ‘being famous’ thing. I didn’t like it when people asked for photos when I first came into F1 – I didn’t feel like I’d done anything yet, so it felt a bit wrong. If I was out for dinner with, say, my family, I would feel really awkward if someone came over to me. Maybe I was thinking about it too much. But as you have some success, the attention goes up and you need to embrace that. We’re so incredibly fortunate that people care about what we do, support us the way they do. Everyone has their favourites and some drivers get different receptions wherever we go – Japan is one of those places where all of us get an awesome reception – and it becomes a lot more enjoyable when you embrace it. Gives you good energy too. It’s not like people seek you out to tell that they don’t like you! So it’s all positive.

We get to meet a lot of properly famous people – not F1-driver famous, really famous people! – doing what we do, and occasionally I still get a strange feeling when I meet someone. I wouldn’t call it being star-struck, but I have some moments still. In Abu Dhabi last year, I got to meet Kevin Hart and Ludacris. They both have massive followings and I actually went a bit shy when I was introduced to them, it was a bit weird there for a minute! I was actually a bit nervous, which was really strange. They knew who I was and what I did, but I felt pretty small compared to them. It’s nice still to get that feeling.

Valentino Rossi will be another one – I say ‘will be’ as I’ve still not met him, we’ve only had contact from social media. I love my MotoGP and he’s just on another level. There was a chance for me to go to Misano the week before we raced at Singapore, but that’s a home race for him and that would be pretty intense! That’s not the one to go and meet him. So one day, that’ll happen – I hope so anyway. What a legend …

The last f-word? Form. It’s sometimes hard to get a handle on a driver’s form in F1 – it’s not like, say, tennis, where if someone’s in a groove serving or nailing their passing shots, then that’s pretty obvious for the people watching. As a driver, you can feel like you’re in a good space and the car isn’t up to it, or the other way around is also true. All this year, I’ve felt pretty good, and that’s definitely ramped up lately. I’m in a good place out of the car, feel fit, and my confidence is up. The car has made some great progress, the momentum has risen and there’s been a good run of podiums lately. Max has given the team a push too, there’s no denying that.

I’ve definitely felt ‘on’ lately, and that’s not just because of Malaysia. Winning again after a long drought didn’t change my confidence or self-belief – with both of those things, I think they’re at a level where they needed to be even before the win. You don’t want those things to go too crazy – I think you can end up getting a bit complacent if that happens. But the win felt good and in a way, was a bit of a relief. My confidence has been at a solid level for a while now and that’s helping me, so I won’t change my approach just because of a win. It felt different (and pretty cool) coming to Suzuka as the guy who’d won the most recent race, but as soon as I got in the car in Japan, it was straight back to business.

Japan was just one of those races, unfortunately. I did what I could, but it was circumstances as much as anything. Unfortunately (Kimi) Raikkonen’s gearbox penalty was the opposite of a blessing in disguise, because it put me on the wet part of the grid from the dry side as I moved up a position, and we lost out a bit there. Just unlucky. Hamilton had a poor start right in front of me, mine was a bit better, but I had to manoeuvre around him, and that pretty much shaped my race. With the straight-line speed, we struggled a bit, but also following cars close, we couldn’t really save the tyres to really launch an attack. You’d make one step forward and then another back. Finally at the end we had a clear track for the last stint and I was able to put in some times, but by then it was too little, too late. I was just a bit lonely out there trying to do my thing!

Austin is next, and I’m going to officially diet for the next week so I can get stuck into some barbeque when I get there. I’ll be looking to drive fast, enjoy plenty of barbeque and see some live music. Should be fun. I’m still not sure if I’m growing the traditional Austin moustache yet either. I’m dabbling with a few ideas, I’ll say that …