This article appeared on ESPNAussiesAbroad.com on August 21.
Daniel Ricciardo, Western Australia’s first Formula One driver, is a very long way from home. Yet, sitting in his one-bedroom apartment in Monaco, he smiles, knowing that the two things he misses most about Perth, the sun and the sand, are abundant in his new surroundings.
It hasn’t just been a change in scenery that has lifted his spirits. Winning, more importantly, has meant that Ricciardo has enjoyed Formula One’s mid-season break just that little bit more than normal.
Ricciardo has used the time off to catch his breath and reflect on his meteoritic rise to Formula One championship contender in his first year with Infiniti Red Bull Racing. The 25-year-old currently sits in third place in the overall standings, 71 points behind leader Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes team, and 60 points behind Rosberg’s teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
With victories at the Canadian Grand Prix in June and the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, Ricciardo counts himself as the only driver other than Rosberg and Hamilton to win a race this season. Along the way, he has also won a slew of new fans, with his ever-present smile and friendly persona.
Before the Formula One season fires back up again in Belgium this weekend, Ricciardo took time out of his schedule to chat with ESPN Aussies Abroad about the season so far and what the future holds.
ALEX BENTON: You’ve just had some time away from the car. Where did you go and what did you do to relax?
DANIEL RICCIARDO: I ended up staying here in Monaco and did a weekend in Saint-Tropez. We had some friends from Australia here during the break so was fun to chill out with them, have a few nights out and spend some long days at the beach. It was a good couple of weeks of relaxation.
How are you enjoying life in Monaco? How does it differ to Milton Keynes?
It’s been a world of difference, it really has. Milton Keynes was good to me, but after five years I was ready to move on and Monaco has exceeded my expectations. The weather and the sea are the two biggest things that you just can’t replace, especially growing up in Perth where I lived less than 10 minutes from the beach and the sunshine is so regular. It’s made a massive difference moving here. The mood is better and my motivation for training is better. It’s been good to me.
Reflecting on your performance so far this season, do you feel as though you’ve exceeded expectations (personally and for the team)?
In a way, yes, but at the same time I always believed that I could do it given the right opportunity. Did I think I would be outperforming Sebastian like I have? Probably not, but to be honest, I didn’t really set any expectations. I knew that if I worked hard, trained well, and soaked up the knowledge of the world champion team, then I would be able to perform.
What has been your greatest challenge in your first year with Infiniti Red Bull Racing?
Everything’s just been fun to be honest! Formula One is a challenge in itself, but no more this year than when I first entered the championship. The more time I spend here, the more I feel that I belong. So yes, on paper this year is my biggest challenge yet, but I’m adapting as I go along, so no step has felt overwhelming. And my approach was to go out there, learn from the four-time champ and just enjoy it. If I can challenge him, that’s great, I deserve to be here.
From the outside, it looks as though you’ve developed a great camaraderie with your team – there seems to be genuine mutual affection – can you tell us about that relationship?
Relationships are important in all aspects of life - personal, work, etc. I am a friendly, easygoing person and this helps when starting relationships. And passion. If you all share a common passion to win and succeed in the sport, then you’re pretty much there. I trust the people I work with, we all want the same things, and so it’s pretty easy to get along with them. We also know how to have fun, which is important.
Sebastian has struggled so far this season with the RB10. How are you feeling behind the wheel?
I’ve enjoyed the new cars this year. They went through a lot of changes from 2013, but at the end of the day they’re still an F1 car. I think for me it’s been more enjoyable than last year because of the situation I’m in now. With a top team I am regularly fighting for podiums and the hunger and passion for what I do is increasing every race because of it. I can’t really speak for Seb. People will have their theories, but yeah, I’m just loving racing up the front!
What is your relationship like with Adrian Newey? By all accounts the guy is a genius with a 2B pencil.
Yeah, Adrian is a wizard. He’s way too smart for me! [Laughs] We communicate mostly at the track in debriefs, and he basically asks the questions and I give him my best answers. We are constantly testing new parts on the car and he needs feedback on a lot of this stuff. Computers are great, but we as drivers are the best tool to report on what we feel. This is where people like Adrian will lean on us and where we work together to bring the team forward.
How big of a role has Helmet Marco played in your development as a racecar driver?
He taught me to toughen up! [Laughs] Since day one he set the bar and it made me grow up quickly. He also has a massive passion for success and if he sees a little 1% floating around somewhere, he’ll make sure I’m aware of it and get after it.
It’s been said that you’re humanizing a traditionally closed-off sport, particularly with your down-to-earth personality on Twitter. Is this something that you’re conscious of?
A little, perhaps. At the end of the day it’s just me being myself and this is what I want the outside world to see. Some sports and industries are very standoffish and I just don’t see the need to be any different because I’m on TV or in the spotlight. I guess it’s also because I’m not so into fame and just want people to see me as a normal person. Not that I would say I’m famous, but you get my point.
What improvements do you think you can make in the second half of 2014?
Just keep learning, build on the things I’ve learnt in the first half of the year, and use it to keep propelling me forward. I’m still young, so plenty of knowledge is out there for me to grab hold of.
There are eight races left in the season, including double points on offer in the season finale in Abu Dhabi. What lies ahead for Daniel Ricciardo and Infiniti Red Bull Racing?
I always take a race-by-race approach and that’s worked well for me. So Abu Dhabi is a long way away. Double points may be the greatest thing in the world! Let’s see. Spa is next, a track I really enjoy, so it’s just about collecting as many points as possible, being solid, take a few more wins if they are there, and leave each race with no regrets. I think I’ve left a lot on the racetrack this year, something people didn’t think I was capable of, so that’s the plan.