Red Bull Racing

The Dan Diaries: Hitting the reset button

In his final exclusive driver column of the year, Daniel Ricciardo looks back at his 2017 season – and opens the door on his thoughts about his F1 future.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’d been a while since I’d been back home in Monaco, so the main priorities were to check that the lights still worked and that the heater could be cranked up, because it had got bloody cold since I was here last. Tick and tick. And then it was time to exhale for a bit before getting going one last time for 2017. The back-end of the year is always pretty hectic, and I hadn’t been home much since before Singapore, back in mid-September. Saying that, I could probably use some more driving, because I didn’t get to do a lot of it the longer the year went.

Abu Dhabi wasn’t a great way to end the season for all of us, and I’m not just saying that because I had to retire. After I’d fended off Kimi (Raikkonen) early on, I was driving around and just about hanging on to Seb (Sebastian Vettel) in front of me, but probably didn’t have the pace to follow him in his dirty air and pass him. Fourth looked like the best it could have got, and I was genuinely thinking about the viewers, because it was pretty dull. The combination of the track layout there and how hard it is for these cars to run close to each other, it just didn’t work. Definitely wasn’t much of a spectacle. I don’t 100 per cent know why the track doesn’t produce great racing, but I think that when you have a slow corner leading onto a long straight like we do there in a couple of places, and when the DRS zone starts – in my opinion anyway – too late, then you end up with these static races where not a lot happens. The cars this year – wider, bigger tyres, more disturbed air behind – were always going to make this one tough. It was worse than we feared, most probably. Not getting any points didn’t help my mood, to be fair.

Retiring early again was pretty hard to take, especially after I’d qualified well. I pitted earlier than I wanted to because I thought I had a flat tyre, but because it happened pretty quickly and because I was sure I hadn’t run over any debris or something, I feared it was something more than that. Turns out I was right. I got back out there and then after a few corners, I could feel the steering was getting a bit weird and quite heavy, and that’s when I knew we had a hydraulics problem. The gears start to go, and there’s no coming back from there.

It’s pretty normal to start to feel the energy wearing down towards the end of the season, because we do a lot of travel in a short time and some back-to-backs. After the race in Abu Dhabi, and maybe I was a bit flatter because of how it finished for me, I had no interest in doing much. A few people in the team were going out to celebrate the end of the season and all that, but I knew I was testing at Yas Marina on the Tuesday, and just wasn’t up for it at all. With the way the season ended, there wasn’t heaps to celebrate anyway. Since Japan, a lot happened, but not a lot of it was good. Three DNFs in the last four races and only a sixth in Brazil to show for it – you know things are bad when Brazil is the highlight of the last few races, because I’d never had a strong run there in the past.

It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head over the last week, and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages. I won a race, I had runs of five and three podiums in a row, held off Lewis (Hamilton) to get third in Austria … there was some good stuff there. It was very up and down though, and the DNF’s hurt both Max (Verstappen) and me – we had 13 between us, Mercedes had just one with (Valtteri) Bottas in Spain and Ferrari had five, and the crash at the start in Singapore was a big factor there. Too many for us, really.

There was too much inconsistency for me to call it an amazing season or a bad one. The reliability was inconsistent and for me, in qualifying – I put in some of my standard laps, but there were other times where we were left scratching our heads like Mexico, where I was fastest on Friday and then a second off pole on Saturday. Still doesn’t completely make sense now, that one.

For me, it’s geography rather than time that makes me feel in my mind that I can switch off, and that’s coming. I did the last race, tested for a day, went to Baku to do some promo work for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, flew back to Monaco, and by the time you read this, I’ll be back in the UK for a week for Red Bull’s Christmas party, time in the simulator and some other things. And then I’m done.

There’s something about that last flight back to Oz from London and when you cross the equator – then you’re on your time and you can completely breathe again. The plan is to get back to Western Australia, not get on a plane except for when I go to Brendon Hartley’s wedding in January, and get away for a bit. Some mates of mine have rented a place away from the city and hopefully where there’s some bad mobile reception! That’s what I’m hanging out for. I feel I need to relax and go back recharged more than spending a month or so trying to do too much when I’m back in Perth, because next year is a big one for me. They’re all big, but there’s a bit going on other than just the driving.

By the time we all turn up in Barcelona at the end of February, I’ll probably be answering a million questions about what I’ll be doing after 2018 when my contract runs out. Which I’m completely prepared for, I get it. I’m actually a bit surprised how much it has been discussed already – not like it was new news that I’m up at the end of ’18 – but I guess Max re-signing with the team took the focus off him and sent it in my direction. It hasn’t been a distraction yet, but the longer it takes, the more people will ask the same questions 200 different ways – and I’ll need to come up with different ways to answer them the same way!

So where do things stand? The short answer is that there’s absolutely no rush, and things can take as long as they take – I’m not setting a deadline for anyone else’s sake, or just to get it done for me. I’m not just going to settle on something because I want it to be off my mind, because there’s a lot at stake. It’s a big decision for me, so if I need to take time to make it, I will. I’m planning on being in the sport for a long while yet, but in saying that, if I was to sign, say, a three-year deal, that’s a big chunk of the next part of my career. I need to get it right, so it’s a big call – the most important one for me yet, I think. I’ll take as much time as I need to. It’s not going to be a distraction.

I’m 29 next year and the next deal will take me into my 30s, so it’s not like I’m the young unproven kid who’ll sign anything just to get on the grid, or at the other end of my career when I’m hanging on and doing things year by year (I don’t ever want to get to that stage, I can’t see myself being that guy). You look at Lewis and when he did his Mercedes deal, he was the same age as I am now if I remember correctly. He was already doing very well where he was, but his career has really taken off since then. So, there’s a lot to consider.

You can get caught up in too many opinions with this, so I’ll use some people close to me as a sounding board and kick it around with some friends just to have the conversation, but I don’t like to have too many people getting involved. It has to come from me, I’m the one who has to live it. I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box, if you like. Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful – races, championships – that’s the absolute priority. It’s not even close.

Being in the position to make the decision is something cool, something unusual, and something where I feel like I’ll probably learn a lot. No matter what happens, it’ll be a growing experience for me because it’s something I’ve not been through. It’ll be nice to stand on my own two feet and make some grown-up decisions. Maybe even act like an adult! It’s all part of the evolution, I’m told …

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The Dan Diaries: Reasons to believe

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo writes about bad luck, Brazil and how the best elite sportspeople separate themselves from the rest.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If momentum and history count for anything with Brazil this weekend, then I might be in some trouble! I’ve not been able to finish the last two races in Austin and Mexico because of car dramas, and 19 racing laps total since Suzuka isn’t ideal. And then there’s Interlagos. For some reason, Brazil and I have never really gotten along. When someone tells you that you’ve done more races at a track than you’ve scored points, then it’s not great! The only way is up, clearly.

My record here – and even the last two races – makes you wonder about luck and the whole concept of it. Does good or bad luck really exist? Is it something people lean on to make themselves feel better when things go wrong? Or is everything explainable?

Sometimes, luck – good or bad – is a thing simply because it’s the only explanation you have for something happening. Not finishing the last two races because of things out of my control sucked of course, but equally you could say I had some luck at the start of the year with finishing races when (teammate) Max (Verstappen) didn’t, so things generally even themselves out. What goes around comes around, that sort of thing. Look at Baku earlier in the year when I won that race – I still had to drive well that day, but then you have something random like the headrest coming loose for Lewis (Hamilton) when he was ahead of me … that was what opened up the chance for me to win.

So for me, luck does exist. I’m a believer! Where do I stand on other things, racing-related or not? Let’s run through a few.

I’m a big believer in treating people the way you want to be treated in return. I see this in the sport and I’m sure anyone reading this knows people who have different ways of dealing with different people – some better, some worse. Some people treat others like it’s a transaction – as in what’s in this for me? – and I’m not a massive fan of that. For me, I try not to have too many different scales – I never understand why you would treat, say, someone famous any differently to someone you just met on the street. Aussies are like that generally, I think. Everyone should get the benefit of the doubt until they don’t deserve it anymore! So I try to keep pretty consistent with that.

A believer in God or a higher power? Sheesh … that’s not an easy one to explain! I was brought up and went to a Catholic school, and as a family we’d go to church on the occasions like Easter and Christmas Day. But the older we got, that began to drift a little, which perhaps is a generational thing. With work for me and where I’ve been, I’ve met lots of people, seen lots of things and got a taste for a lot of different angles when it comes to religion. My perspective has become more full, you could say. Sometimes religion can create divisions before people can get a chance to make their own minds up, just by its existence, so that’s one thing I don’t like about it. So that’s a very hard one to answer. It all comes down to how you were brought up and the experiences you had with family in those formative years, I guess.

The power of positive thinking? Believer. Big believer. A lot of the people I surround myself with and a lot of my mates are generally happy and positive people. There’s good energy that comes with that. The people who are on the other side of that – my mates and I call them ‘sappuccinos’ because they sap energy! – are always down and see the glass as being half-empty and not half-full. So positive thinking brings good energy, and good energy means you can get things done. Tick.

Can you learn from your mistakes? Absolutely I believe you can. Some people take time to analyse when things don’t work, and others are in denial or feel they can just brush it off and they don’t need to take anything out of it. I’m in the first category for the most part professionally, and I’m relatively good at that.

Can hard work overcome talent if talent doesn’t work hard? Believer. I’m not going to name names in F1 because that might be a bit tricky, but I’ll say there were definitely drivers growing up in Australia coming through karting with me who were very talented. They also moved abroad like me and tried to make it, but then they struggled a lot, and all of a sudden I was the one who was creating the headlines, which probably surprised a few people. They had just as much driving talent as me, but perhaps they were out partying and chasing girls and eating crap food and so on, I’m not sure. Whatever the case, things flamed out for them. So you need a baseline of talent, for sure, but hard work can be the thing that separates you. I believe I’m a product of that, and even now, I know that those first couple of years in Europe when I was a nobody and it was really hard to grind away, they completely set me up. Without those years and what they taught me about the hunger I needed, maybe I don’t make it at all.

Is sport more mental than physical? For most cases, yes. Some of my best races have been when I’m maybe not physically the strongest or fittest person on the grid, but I’m in the best place mentally because of what’s going on in my life and the way I’ve got myself in the right headspace to perform. Unless you’re talking, say, ironman or other sports where your results are based on almost purely physical performance, what separates the great from the very good at the elite level is all mental.

I’ve become a lot more aware of what I need to do to be in the right mental space and can get myself there on the days even when I’m not really feeling it. Anyone who works knows that there’s some days when you’re just not naturally in that space, so having the right triggers, routines or whatever that can get you there is really important. Diet, music, stretching … there’s a lot of things that, for me, go into it. Saying that, there are some days when you think you’re set to have a blinder of a race and don’t, or when you don’t expect much and you get a result. Look at Baku this year. Waking up that morning, that wasn’t a race I was expecting to win. Explains why I looked more surprised than any other emotions in the pics afterwards!

Can you learn more about yourself in bad times than good times? 100 per cent. A big weekend for me over the whole of my career was Canada in 2013 when I was still at Toro Rosso. Mark (Webber) was finishing at Red Bull at the end of that year, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, too much really. And it just wasn’t working. I had a shocker of a weekend and ‘JEV’ (teammate Jean-Eric Vergne) was really strong. I couldn’t keep going the way I was going, so I took a step back, re-assessed and did some serious thinking.

I wouldn’t say I was lost or at some sort of career crossroads, but I was in a rut, for sure. There’s a lot more room to grow from those situations, because if you win, there’s a tendency to think ‘I was the best today, let’s move onto the next one’. I’m trying to get better at learning from that too (it’d be good to have more chances to learn from winning too, I’m working on that!), but you learn way more about your ability and yourself on your worst days, if you’re willing to look into it rather than brushing it off as simply bad luck. Which brings us back to where we started …

So, Brazil. I know, five points in six races sounds pretty ugly. But I’m thinking positive thoughts. My stats in Malaysia were about as bad as Brazil until I won Sepang last year, so there’s that. Because I’ve never had a good one in Brazil, my motivation is to figure it out and get that right. We’ll give it a crack.

The Dan Diaries: I’m asking the questions …

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo talks dollars, being mistaken for famous Hollywood celebrities, and what secret skill he wishes he had.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’re going to get a bit left-field with the old Diary this time. Change things up a bit. There’s a reason for it, I swear …

We spend so much of our time in F1 answering questions – from media (they often ask the same ones 37 different ways!) and the fans, so it’s time we flipped the script here. Time for a takeover!

I’ve come up with 20 questions to ask … myself. Some of them I get asked a fair bit. Some I’ve never been asked until now! Some of them get a bit off-topic. You’ll learn some things. I know I did … In no particular order and for no particular reason, here we go.

What happens to all of your trophies when you finish on the podium?

Excellent question! My Red Bull contract means I get replicas. Which means they’re real replicas, but the team keeps the ones on the podium. I’ve had 27 podiums, so they’re scattered around a bit. Some are at home in Monaco, some I got shipped back to Australia, so they’re a bit spread out.

How did your driver helmet collection start, and whose helmets do you own?

First one was with Fernando (Alonso), when he was still at Ferrari. It was at the end of 2014 in Abu Dhabi when he asked me to swap, which was pretty sweet. It kind of built from here. How many … not sure of the exact number. Let’s just say a few, and hopefully I’ll add a few more.

How does a Formula One driver get paid? Weekly, monthly, in advance, in arrears? Do you get bonuses and incentives?

Most of us in F1 have the similar structure of a base retainer – so no matter how bad the season is, there’s a figure – and then there’s podium bonuses, bonuses for poles, points and things like that. We’re all pretty much the same, it’s just that the numbers would be different for some of us! We know the minimum we’ll make but not the maximum. There’d be a bit extra for a world championship too. No wonder those guys look pretty happy …

What’s the best alias you’ve used to check into a hotel (and will now never use again!)

Simon Hectic. No, really. True story. My mates and I, when we were younger, we used to prank-call people and we’d use all of these stupid names, and that was one of them. No idea why. Simon Hectic has got a run when there’s someone waiting at an airport to pick me up or something like that.

What’s the most random famous person you’ve been mistaken for?

I got Adam Sandler once! Seriously. ‘Screech’ from that TV show ‘Saved By The Bell’, that was another one. And in F1, I used to get Sebastien Buemi all the time. When he was at Toro Rosso and I was a reserve quite a few years ago, people would give me photos of him to sign all the time …

Have you ever used ‘don’t you know who I am?’ to get something you wanted?

I haven’t … but some of my mates have, like ‘don’t you know who he is?’ I wouldn’t have the nerve to do it … but people have done it for me.

You do so many flights per year. How did you survive them: music, reading, movies, sleeping, what?

I actually used to count my flights, ‘it’s flight 109 for the season this week’, that sort of thing. Not so much anymore. I’m not a massive sleeper on planes, so it’s mostly music, of course, and then lots of movies on the long flights. I actually look forward to that because I’d never see them otherwise. And your phone is off. No texts, no emails. I actually like it …

Who organises your travel schedule, and how do you keep track of it all?

It’s a mix. Partly me, partly my PA that I have back in Monaco, Viola, and then Red Bull’s logistics department. There’s something weirdly satisfying about sitting down at the start of the year and planning the whole year in one go, with some flexibility for things that come up of course. Getting it all mapped out is a bit of a relief too, having, say, 80 per cent of it sorted takes the stress out.

Off the track, do you prefer to be the driver or a passenger when there’s more than you in the car?

On a race weekend, my trainers Stu or Sam, whoever is with me, they’ll drive into the circuit. A lot of F1 drivers are bad passengers, but as long as I have the music to control, then that’s good enough for me.

What are you thinking about in the post-race press conferences when other drivers are speaking in their native languages?

Most of the time, not a lot – there’s usually a bit of daydreaming going on! Drinking water if we’ve had a hot race. If there’s someone speaking, say, Finnish and I have no idea what’s being said, then the daydreaming starts!

Red Bull always come up with some different ways of promoting the brand – what’s the most fun activity you’ve done over the years?

Last year we did some motocross in the desert in Abu Dhabi which was pretty cool, that’s something I’d done before so that was really fun. And the caravan race Max (Verstappen) and I did around the Red Bull Ring earlier this year was hilarious. Both of us were just losing it laughing. We might have got a bit off-script that day …

Tell us something (within reason) about two of your F1 teammates so far that people might not know?

Seb (Sebastian Vettel) is quite superstitious. He has a lucky charm that he wears in his suit or in his boots, I can’t completely remember. Max … this is pretty funny. In the Sunday morning strategy meetings, he sits with his head down towards the table. If you didn’t know better you’d swear he was sleeping! You 100 per cent know he’s taking it all in and listening to everything, it just looks like he’s not!

If you could play any other sport professionally for a living, what would you want it to be?

Tennis, for sure. I’ve always enjoyed that one-on-one nature of it, and there’s no bullshit in terms of the best guy wins the match. There’s no blaming your racquet, your shoes, none of that. I love how there’s a big playing arena compared to how little space the players take up in it, there’s no helmets or armour, every facial expression is for the spectators to see. And I like how there can be such massive momentum swings and how that momentum can shift so quickly. It’d be amazing to have that level of talent to deliver under that much pressure.

Do you have a secret skill, and if so, what is it?

I’ve never tried a unicycle, so that’s out. Let’s say I can catch really well. Good eyes and good reflexes! Not very glamorous. But I’ll back myself to catch anything.

If there was one skill you could have that you don’t, what would it be?

Singing or playing an instrument, it’s not even close. People who can play four different instruments and still sing, I’m like ‘damn you’ … Imagine being able to rock up to, say, a piano and be able to play whatever you wanted? That’d be cool.

How often do up-and-coming drivers ask for advice, and is that something that sits well with you?

I recognise I’m in that position a little bit more now, I’m not the young rookie coming in guns blazing any more. So it does happen sometimes, and I’m good with that. The guns are still blazing, don’t worry, it’s just that there’s some more depth to me now. I acknowledge that’s a bit more my position in the sport and motorsport generally now, to be a role model or perhaps give people some advice. The wise old bloke …

What’s the best and/or worst investment in something that someone has asked you to make?

You get some good ones, for sure. You’d be amazed at how many people come completely out of the woodwork and say ‘hey, you should stick your money into this’ when you’ve never met them before. Because there’s an app for everything these days, you’ll get a lot of approaches to invest in those – and you realise some of the best ideas already exist … The best ones for us drivers are things like real estate – because it’s safe and strong – and because of what we do, cars.

What’s your off-season binge food favourite when you can let loose?

A massive juicy greasy hamburger. Massive. It has to be a good hamburger, it just doesn’t have to be a very healthy one. One that’s massive and half of it falls out and runs down your forearms as you’re eating it. You need a bath afterwards. Nice.

What podium have you never stood on yet that you’re most keen to?

Suzuka, that’s finally ticked off now. I’ve physically stood on the Australian one (2014) even though I didn’t get to keep the second place, so I won’t say that. Mexico would be pretty cool, and I technically did get to stand on it last year, but that was hours after the race and when pretty much everyone had gone home! So I’ll say Monza, just for that atmosphere.

What’s the best thing about going back to Australia – weather, accents, open space, what?

There’s so many … Bottle shops and pre-mixes is a random one. Cracking a can open and knowing you don’t have to mix it! So, so Australian. And good Aussie bakeries, where you roll in and get your pepper steak pie and that sort of thing, that’s Australia. Bakeries remind me of heading down south or up north in WA to go on holidays, so there’s a nostalgic part of it too. You definitely get more aware of that sort of thing as you get older.

The Dan Diaries: Flying solo

Daniel Ricciardo writes about why coaching has little place in F1, where to draw the line on routines, and why the omens are good for Singapore this Sunday.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

September in Australia means footy finals – no matter what type of footy is your footy – and for me, last Saturday afternoon at home in Monaco was spent getting my heart rate up watching my West Coast Eagles in their AFL elimination final against Port Adelaide. It had everything – extra time, crazy momentum shifts, and a match-winning goal after the final siren (for the good guys, naturally). Awesome. But something I noticed after the game as the players were going nuts and all the team’s support staff spilled onto the field was just how many coaches an AFL team has, and the same applies for most other types of team sports.

Compare that to what I do? Us drivers have personal trainers who help to shape our bodies (and sometimes our minds) to get us ready, and my long-time trainer Stu Smith has had as much (if not more) impact on my career than anyone. But as far as coaching for actual driving goes, there’s nothing. It’s on you. To anyone on the outside, it must seem odd to think that you get to the main motorsport category in the world and you’re mostly on your own, but that’s the way it is – and the way it has to be.

When I first came to Europe to race, I went to a few driver coach days and had some more experienced people than I was teach you some techniques and some approaches to things. I figured that was what you were supposed to do. But the further I got into my career and especially once I got to F1, I realised I had to learn things for myself. I’m the one in the car and things change every year – different rules, different tyres, different teams – so it’s hard for anyone to advise you, you’re the one in the hot seat. So you’re faced with a choice – commit, invest the time and learn for yourself, or you’ll probably soon be an ex-F1 driver.

F1’s a unique sport in that if you’re, say, a tennis player, you can go and practice serving or returning or whatever as you try to work on your game. As an F1 driver, we get very limited test days and simulator time, and it’s not like you can go and “practice” F1 away from race weekends, is it? So how do you get better as an F1 driver?

Data and dissecting it – and then learning not to over-do it – has been a big thing for me. You’ll always take, say, your best lap and compare that to your teammate’s best lap – I was quicker here, he was quicker there – but I don’t think many people want to do a longer dissection and look at, say, 20 random laps in the race. Who was better on older tyres and why? Is your teammate coming off the brakes earlier than you at a certain corner? Which of you is keeping the rear tyres cooler and why? What can your engineer identify for you from looking at the data and give you something to work on? There’s always something to learn, and that’s a part of being an F1 driver that I’ve always enjoyed.

The trick when you’re a younger driver is working out how much analysis is enough. Because I was interested in those early F1 years, looking back at it now, I did a lot of poring over the numbers, probably too much. There was a bit of paralysis by analysis for me early on, and I needed to scale back or I was just going to send myself around in circles looking for tenths of a second that might not be there. I just thought that was what you needed to do to be an F1 driver, and if going over data meant two hours’ less sleep, that’s what I did. You learn over time that more isn’t always better, and as you gain trust in your engineer – and that takes time – they can help you narrow things down, and that’s what Simon (Rennie) does for me.

Developing a routine – and one that has some flexibility in it – is massive for us too when you consider the travel that we do, the time zone changes and all of that. Working out what works for you takes time, but it’s time you have to spend. Looking back again to when I first came to Europe, I didn’t really have an eating or training routine that I followed, and it showed. By my second year, I began to learn what I needed to do away from the car to get me in the best place to operate my best, and then the year before my first full year of F1, 2010, I realised what sleep did for my performances, and became very aware of my sleep patterns, sleep quality and hours as I built up to a race weekend. By my second year of F1, I was much more aware of how to manage my energy and be ready to peak at the right times.

The trick with a routine, at least for me, is not to get so caught up in the order of things or when things have to happen that you get knocked off-balance when strange things happen, like weather delaying qualifying for hours like in Italy in the last race (when I grabbed a camera for a bit!), or somewhere like Melbourne when things are pretty hectic for me and there’s always a last-minute request to do this or that. If I had a set routine that had to be followed to the letter, I’d never get through that Australian weekend because of how busy it is. More strict routines work for some top-line sportspeople – look at Valentino Rossi’s rituals as he leaves the pits on his bike, or the way Rafael Nadal prepares to serve or what he does when he rests between games. But just because a rigid routine works for them, it doesn’t make it right for you. Mine is less strict than that, but I do have a checklist of things I like to do to get me completely at my peak for the most important part of the weekend, Sunday afternoon.

I mentioned Rossi and Nadal and their routines, and while F1 and what we do is so unique, I love looking at other sports and other athletes to see what they do to prepare and whether that can translate, can maybe help me in some way. I’ve probably learned more from other sports than my own, to be honest. Seeing how other athletes perform in the moment and trying to find out why, or how they prepare – I can’t get enough of that sort of thing. You don’t want to get too specific with it because some of it might not apply to your sport, but you can learn so much from watching and listening, and I think that’s why I’m such a sports enthusiast generally, there’s always something you can take away from someone else’s approach.

Other than watch footy last weekend, it was time to think about packing my life into a bag and being on the road for the rest of the year. The last seven races of the season are all outside of Europe, and the main focus after Monza was to ramp up the training and get some work done in the heat for the next two races in Singapore this weekend and then Malaysia two weeks after that. There’s no sugar-coating it, these two are just brutally hard, and I’ve tried to smash myself a bit with the training over the last week but keep myself fresh enough so I’m ready for Sunday in Singapore. You need to be in proper nick for these two.

For the team, Singapore is obviously one we’ve had our sights on for a while, and while it won’t be the only other race we have a chance at winning this year – who would have thought I’d have won at Baku with the characteristics of that track? – Singapore is one race where we have a great chance.

It’s good to head there off the back of a couple of pretty good races, including the podium at Spa which we didn’t expect. That safety car for the Force India boys crashing into each other was handy, for sure. We had a new set of ultrasoft tyres, and I was pretty surprised Mercedes went to the soft tyres, particularly with Valtteri Bottas ahead of me. Fourth would have been good, but the podium was there to be taken, and I had to have a go. I had Kimi (Raikkonen) hovering behind me ready to attack, so the best way for me to defend from him was to attack Bottas, and I had one shot at it after the re-start and nailed it. Pretty sweet.

It would have been awesome to get onto the podium again at Monza too – that’s one podium I’ve still not been on and one I want because that has to be the best podium in all of F1 – but in the end I ran out of laps to get to Seb (Sebastian Vettel) after starting down near the back because of penalties. It’ll happen one day.

That was a fun race and there was plenty of overtakes, everyone saw the one with Kimi and the one with (Sergio) Perez at the second chicane. I’d also managed to pass (Kevin) Magnussen at the same chicane with the same move earlier in the race, but I don’t think it made the TV broadcast. So, a shame to not be on that awesome podium, but good to string a couple of good ones together after coming back from the break.

Hopefully we can make it three this weekend. Singapore has been good to me the last three years – third, second, and second again (and fastest lap) last year, so there’s only one step to go from there …

The F1 mid-term report

Who has starred, who has slumped and who needs to step up at the halfway stage of the F1 season?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The verdict on Formula One so far in 2017? Pretty positive. There’s genuine competition between teams for race wins and the drivers’ championship, which there hasn’t been in some time, and the new-for-2017 regulations have delivered monstrously fast and mean-looking cars that look spectacular on track (but struggle to overtake one another, as the Hungarian GP made very evident). Add to that the craziest race in recent times in Azerbaijan when Daniel Ricciardo saluted, and there’s a lot to like.

What’s more, the look and feel of an F1 weekend in the post-Ecclestone era has been a breath of fresh air. Ladies and gentlemen, social media! Actual vision from inside a drivers’ briefing! Something extra for the fans at a race weekend! It’s been quite the eye-opener.

Before we launch into our mid-season report, and before you ask, we haven’t failed maths – yes, Hungary was race 11 of the 20-race F1 season, but coming as it did before the one-month hiatus and the next race in Belgium at the end of August, it was worth waiting until school was out properly until making some mid-year grades. On that very subject …

Dux of the class

We’ve been waiting a long time for a proper championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – since 2007 in fact, when both made their Formula One debuts in the same season (Vettel became a full-timer on the grid a year later). And at the halfway stage of the season, it’s Vettel who has shone brightest. But only just.

Both drivers have four wins, but the German has led the title chase since taking the opening round in Australia, and has been his consistent self since – 11 races, 11 finishes, eight podiums, and a worst finish of seventh at the British Grand Prix, when he suffered a puncture in sight of the flag. It’s hard to see how he could have done much more.

The intrigue in this battle is how both protagonists go about achieving the same goal in different ways – Vettel’s metronomic approach contrasts sharply with Hamilton’s peaks and troughs. When the Mercedes W08 isn’t in the set-up sweet spot, Hamilton has been outshone by new teammate Valtteri Bottas, who seems better equipped to cope with a car that’s not quite there. But when the Mercedes is dialled in, Hamilton has been brilliant in qualifying (he has six poles in 11 races), and occasionally utterly dominant in races – his Silverstone weekend was as emphatic as it gets.

Both drivers have their emotional frailties – again, which manifest themselves in different ways – which makes the second half of the season and their likely first head-to-head battle for the title so mouth-watering in prospect. You can’t help but wonder if the three points Hamilton relinquished in Hungary after pulling over to let Bottas finish third to honour an in-race agreement will come back to bite him later in the season, though. The in-house tension at the Silver Arrows since the apolitical Bottas replaced the cunning Nico Rosberg has dissipated almost completely, but what if that new-found harmony comes at the cost of a title?

Encouragement award

We’re not going with the ‘every child wins a prize’ philosophy here, but this one could be split four ways.

Bottas, firstly: after coming across to Mercedes in the wake of Rosberg’s shock decision to walk after winning the 2016 crown, the Finn has made every post a winner in what is essentially a make-good contract; nail 2017, and his future should be rosy. He’s won twice (Russia and Austria), matched Vettel for the most podiums in 11 races (eight) and proven to be the consummate team player. Mercedes would be mad not to keep him in 2018 – he’s clearly fast enough and apolitical enough.

Ricciardo deserves a mention here too. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, he’s always there, pressing on relentlessly like a honey badger attacking a hive of bees. His Azerbaijan win – when all looked lost early in the race when an unscheduled pit stop had him at the back of the field – was almost unsurprising in that he made the best of what was on offer on a crazy day, and that ‘best’ was good enough for a fifth career win. Is there a driver better or cleaner in wheel-to-wheel combat?

As a team, Force India deserve a pat on the back here. Fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship, the Indian-owned British-run team has consolidated that in 2017, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both finishing in the points nine times in 11 races. The pink-liveried team has clearly established itself as the best squad outside F1’s ‘big three’; now, all it needs is for its drivers to stop tripping over one another in races …

Finally, a nod to Nico Hulkenberg, who is now an uncomfortable two races away from equalling compatriot Adrian Sutil’s unwanted record of most F1 starts without a top-three finish (128). You can’t do much more in a Renault than Hulkenberg has this year, the German scoring points in five races and qualifying in the top 10 six times.

Could do better

Reasons Ferrari shouldn’t retain Kimi Raikkonen next year: in 70 races since he re-joined Ferrari for the 2014 season, he’s been beaten by teammates Fernando Alonso (2014) and Vettel (since) 49-21 in qualifying, 7-0 in race wins (he hasn’t won a race since Australia 2013 for Lotus, 86 Grands Prix ago), 30-11 in podium finishes, and has scored 37 per cent of his team’s points in that time, explaining why the team with this year’s drivers’ championship leader trails Mercedes by 39 points in the constructors’ race.

Reason Ferrari will keep Kimi Raikkonen next year. Hungary.

You can understand Ferrari’s logic here; while Raikkonen is a long, long way from his 2007 world championship-winning heyday, he doesn’t play politics, has a wealth of experience, gets on with Vettel and doesn’t rock the boat. When Ferrari orchestrated races in Monaco (unofficially) and Hungary (officially) to ensure the Finn stayed behind a race-leading Vettel, he expressed his disappointment, sighed and moved on. It would have been so easy for Raikkonen to push an ailing Vettel hard in Hungary to stand on the top step of the podium for the first time in an age, but, out of contract and with (arguably) no other team likely to offer him one, that wouldn’t have been the brightest idea.

Expect Raikkonen to be renewed at or before the Italian Grand Prix next month – and expect plenty of F1 fans to wonder just what another driver could do in a car that Vettel has proven is a genuine race-winner. Raikkonen is clearly worthy of being in F1 for his name and pedigree alone, but with a top team?

Needs a strong second semester

Both Toro Rosso drivers could use a good end to 2017, but for entirely different reasons.

Carlos Sainz must wonder what he needs to do to get a break; the Spaniard has scored 35 of his team’s 39 points this year alongside Daniil Kvyat, and amassed 77 points to the Russian’s eight since the pair became teammates at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, when Max Verstappen took Kvyat’s place in Red Bull’s ‘A’ team. Sainz is good enough to drive further up the grid, but won’t be going anywhere as Red Bull’s insurance policy in case Verstappen or Ricciardo bolt one day.

As for Kvyat? Considering he has more penalty points on his FIA super licence (10) than he’s scored points (eight) in the past 28 races, the end for the driver derisively referred to as ‘the torpedo’ must surely be nigh, with 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly waiting impatiently in the (Red) Bull pen.

Extra detention

One driver and one team get the unwanted nomination here. Jolyon Palmer hasn’t made much of a case to be retained by Renault, being out-scored 26-0 and out-qualified in all 11 races by Hulkenberg this season. He couldn’t have come much closer to a top-10 finish – Palmer was 11th in Monaco, Canada and Austria – but with Renault in a tight fight for places 5-8 in the constructors’ championship, it needs more than one car to make a contribution.

As for McLaren – or more pertinently, McLaren-Honda – the less said the better. Sixth for Alonso and 10th for Stoffel Vandoorne in Hungary gave the team that has won 182 Grands Prix and 12 drivers’ championships nine points in one race – compared to the combined two points from the opening 10 races this year …

Can the team extract itself from the Honda engine deal to go elsewhere (Mercedes?) while covering the financial shortfall an early divorce with the Japanese manufacturer would create? That’s uncertain, but what we do know if that while Vandoorne has time and talent on his side, it’s a crying shame to see a 36-year-old Alonso struggling like this. F1 is undoubtedly in a better place when the Spaniard is mixing it up the front of the field.

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!

Daniel Ricciardo’s Spanish lessons

How different is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the fastest cars F1 has ever seen? We asked the Red Bull Racing star.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Ask any Formula One driver to draw you a map of the circuit they can recall with the greatest accuracy, and there’s a fair chance the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will appear in front of you.

Why? Most F1 drivers have spent more time lapping the Spanish circuit than any other, mostly because of its use as a pre-season testing venue of choice in the northern hemisphere winter while the rest of Europe shivers in February. Every corner, every straight, every camber change – F1 drivers have this track down-pat. Or at least they did, until this season.

Wider cars with more downforce and bigger, grippier tyres greeted the F1 pilots when they arrived in Barcelona for pre-season testing three months ago, and for those drivers who have been pounding around the Spanish track for years, it was quite an eye-opener. When the rule changes for 2017 were announced in 2015, Nico Rosberg set pole for the Spanish GP with a lap of 1min 24.681secs. This year, in pre-season testing, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari set the benchmark of 1:18.635, a whopping six seconds faster than just two years ago.

For the drivers, 2017 has meant recalibrating their brains for the fastest cars F1 has ever produced. At all four races so far this year – Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia – the pole position times have smashed the overall circuit lap records, some of which had stood for 13 years.

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is the first time the drivers arrive at a track knowing exactly what to expect from this new generation of cars, and for Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, it’s a chance to test his memory on what he learned back in February. “They’re a lot different to drive anywhere compared to last year’s cars,” he says, “but this time, we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Which sections of the 4.655km track below are a game-changer compared to last year? Our affable Aussie highlights four bits below to keep an eye on when you’re watching round five of the season this weekend.

Turns 2-3

As Ricciardo highlighted earlier this year, the revered Turn 3 at Barcelona has gone from being a 220km/h corner last year – no walk in the park – to an eye-watering flat-out 255km/h right-hander that places massive strain on the drivers’ necks. “It’s a big jump, not a gradual one,” he says.

What’s more, Turn 2, the sharp left-hander that sets up the long run into 3, has become a challenge in its own right.

“Turn 2, I think there were a few laps in winter testing where it was full-throttle,” Ricciardo grins.

“If you set a lap up good and stayed tight on the exit, you could do Turn 2 AND Turn 3 full, so that was a big difference – and very cool!”

Turn 7

There was nothing particularly special about this corner in the past, other than seeing how much of the inside kerb the drivers would dare to take as they strained to save valuable milliseconds in qualifying. In 2017-spec F1 machinery? Ricciardo’s verdict: “sweet”.

“Turn 7, the little left-hand flick, that was a lot quicker in these cars than I can ever remember it,” he says.

“That’s only ever been a fourth-gear corner, and now it’s fifth gear. So, intense!”

Turn 9

Along with Turn 3, this is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s signature corner. The right-hander comes at you over a crest, meaning the car feels light as the drivers are stomping on the loud pedal to blast down the back straight. Attempting to keep your foot buried in the throttle for this turn in testing became a game within a game for the drivers, and we saw several spinners as the tyres simply couldn’t cope with the entry speed.

“With Turn 9, the right-hander into the back straight, if we get a headwind there this weekend, we could take that one full (throttle) as well,” Ricciardo says.

“(Teammate) Max (Verstappen) tried it in testing but ran out of road and had to lift out of it. But in these cars, this one is super-quick.”

Turn 16

Barcelona doesn’t quite save the best for last, but it’s not far off. While the last section of the lap isn’t the flat-out blast that it once was before the current configuration of corners were brought in before 2007, it’s still a challenge – although Ricciardo admits to considering what it would be like with the former layout.

“With these new cars, it makes me wonder about the last sequence of corners where we can see the track that MotoGP has used and F1 used to with the two high-speed right-handers,” he says.

“I never got to drive those with the old layout by the time I came into F1, but in these cars – wow! The track is always physical anyway, but that would have made it something else for your neck. Brutal.”

As it is, the new cars have added a physical element to what had become a corner that was only occasionally a challenge.

“The very last corner has been full with very low fuel in the past, but on high fuel and when the tyres wear, that’s been pretty tricky,” he says.

“But the grip and downforce now is so good that in testing this year on our long runs, that was still easily flat.”