The 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship is a crucial one for Australia’s DANIEL RICCIARDO. We catch up with him to talk strength, respect and his next contract…
This is now your seventh full season in F1. How do you feel about the journey so far?
I certainly feel more like, it’s natural, each year, a bit more relaxed and probably just composed in the environment. I would love that this is the year I can really fight for a title. I’ve had some wins, which obviously are great. I’ve had a little bit of success in Formula 1 now, but not the ultimate success which I’m obviously still after and still very hungry for so hopefully this year can be that. That’s the real plan.
Lots of athletes talk about how tough home event media commitments can be. What was the Australian Grand Prix lead-up like for you?
Yeah, it was full-on. This year, you know, we’ve definitely been consciously taking things back. Last year was hectic. I was, I think, in Sydney on the Monday doing media and then flew to Melbourne and it was just too much in terms of ‘why are we here?’ if you know what I mean. Are we here to please media or are we here to race F1 cars? So that was just where it got. Obviously the prep, getting into the car, was not at a professional level, I’d say. Inevitably there’s always going to be a lot of media there and a lot of attention, it’s the first race and I’m the Aussie so I get that. So it’s always going to be a busy weekend than every other one. But we’ve been a lot more sensible this year so I feel all right. And the more I do it, as each year ticks by, the more I’m used to it so I can kind of manage it better.
Your Red Bull Racing team’s biggest challenge last year was reliability, especially on the power unit side. What has Renault done to address that, and will you get boosted engine modes for qualifying this year?
It would be awesome to get both boxes ticked. The first box was reliability and they addressed that pretty strongly so far. Testing was really good for us, as far as mileage went. So it was kind of let’s get the reliability sorted and then let’s chip away at the performance. There are obviously always a few gains, but we haven’t gone those big steps yet with performance. We’ve just been trying to get reliability because at the end of the day if we are going to fight for a title, we need to be finishing pretty much every race. And to be in the hunt, especially when Mercedes are so strong. So, reliability is on point now. Just we’ll try and seek a bit of performance out over the next few races.
Your win last year in Azerbaijan was mega, but how did you feel seeing your hotshot teammate Max Verstappen take dominant wins in Malaysia and Mexico — pain or hope that this year could be different?
A bit of both, especially as Mexico was such a strange weekend for me. Like, I was quickest on Friday, quickest in practice 2 and then qualifying like a second off or something. We just didn’t have any answer why we were so slow from one day to the next and then in the race we took a penalty and I was out after five laps. With Max it was like I wasn’t necessarily frustrated at his result because I was never really in it in Mexico for whatever reason. But I did take confidence from that. I was like, ok, the car’s there. The car can produce some amazing things like this, so that was positive. And I think we definitely carry that into this year with very few rule changes, obviously, it’s like we can just build on what we learnt.
You completed the most overtakes of any driver in F1 last year (43), do you feel you get enough respect for your razor-sharp racing style?
It’s getting there. I feel I definitely had to turn that on its head pretty much, like when I first got into F1, obviously because I’m smiling a lot of the time, people just see that and think like he’s not going to be the most ruthless guy on the track because look at him, he’s too nice. And with Toro Rosso I didn’t really get a chance to kind of do much or show that, and you can overtake 15th place car but until you’re overtaking the front-running cars it’s not really seen. I had to turn a pretty big page to change people’s opinions and I think it’s pretty well known now but I’ll obviously keep on it and keep reminding people.
How are you going to up your game in qualifying?
Not crash. I think that’ll help. Stay on track. That’s always a good start.
What are your thoughts on the Halo, now you’ve driven with it?
Looks ugly but you don’t notice it in the car surprisingly enough.
Where are you at with contract talks for 2019, given you’re a free agent at the end of the season?
At the moment I’m not too bothered with it. I mean at the end of the day if I don’t have a contract in 2019, I can actually have a year off and not do one hundred flights a year, and not have this to deal with, so maybe it’s nice. I don’t know, I’m not in any rush, but also I think the results at the end of the day will do the talking. For any of us who are out of contract, I think the person who is going to be in the hot seat is not necessarily the person who does the best negotiating, but does the results on track. That’s really my focus — just to come out on the right foot in Melbourne and just try and hopefully fight for a title this year, that would be awesome.
One of the big races for Aussies to attend after Melbourne is the F1 Singapore Grand Prix in September. Are you looking forward to the start of the Asian leg of the championship?
Yeah, I enjoy the last part of the season. Singapore is cool. It’s the most challenging race of the year, just purely for the humidity. It’s crazy, and I think because it’s in the streets the air is very thick. It doesn’t really escape. It’s definitely the most physical race of the year for the heat. It’s fun, it’s obviously closer to home. We get quite a few Aussies coming to that race, and under the lights it’s quite spectacular.
Why do so many Aussies love it so much?
Logistically, it’s fairly convenient, but it’s a cool race. There’s not many night races we do. Singapore, as a city, there’s a lot going on. It’s just a good atmosphere and because it’s a street circuit you can get quite close to the action. So for spectators I think you can see us brushing past the walls in a few places and with the sparks coming off the cars it’s quite a spectacle. ■
2018 F1 CALENDAR HIGHLIGHT: FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
The fight for the F1 world championship heats up when the teams again touch down in Marina Bay for the 11th edition of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, the sport’s original night race, this September 14 to 16. A fan favourite for a decade, Singapore has it all with Formula 1 and other exotic machinery racing through Marina Bay at up to 320km/h. While off-track, there’s a lot to see and do – with interactive family activities, parties galore and some of the world’s biggest music acts performing live on stage.
Last year’s 10th edition line-up was one of the best-ever, with headline acts including global DJ sensation Calvin Harris, pop superstar Ariana Grande, synth- pop veterans Duran Duran, US pop rockers OneRepublic, American DJ duo The Chainsmokers, and British singer-songwriter Seal. 2018’s line-up is yet to drop.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel remains the most successful driver in Singapore, with four wins. But it’s also a great circuit for Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, who finished second in 2017. Can he go one better this year? Over 250,000 attending spectators every year can’t be wrong, with the event a perfect combination of balmy nights, racing under lights, trackside parties and live music, a wide variety of top international artists performing on stage. It’s also so easy to do on any budget with single-day walkabout tickets starting from just S$128 (approx. AUD$122), with early bird prices available at www.singaporegp.sg and authorised ticket agents until May 8th, and plenty of affordable accommodation, both in and around the city.
The FORMULA 1 2018 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX will be held from September 14-16, with more information at singaporegp.sg
INTERVIEW BY STEWART BELL
For the full article grab the May 2018 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.