He’s had a roller coaster debut season with the Renault F1 team, but he’s still excited about the road ahead. MAXIM sat down with the smiling Australian Formula One star for a debrief on his 2019 journey…
How are you feeling, Dan? Tired after your first season with Renault?
I definitely feel good coming off the last few. We finally had two good back-to-back races, actually with Mexico and Austin — and if I look at Suzuka as well, I think the last three have been pretty awesome. Obviously you’ll get the probably the bored critics who will say, “Oh well, Suzuka wasn’t”, that kind of thing. But I think everyone who knows actually what we were doing knows that it didn’t really change the outcome of that race. So looking at that I think we’ve had three real good ones on the trot, which is really encouraging and I want to keep it going.
You’ve said your target for 2020 is a single podium and champagne. Is that realistic, given the team’s position this year?
Sitting here where we are today for sure, to make it realistic we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I definitely don’t think it’s impossible. And I see what McLaren’s done this year, they made a big jump in performance from where they were last year, they gained I don’t know how much lap time but it’s quite a lot. And I believe we’ve got all the tools in place to make a step like that. So with that I do believe it. I don’t single McLaren out. I think if we can do what they’ve done this would put us around at least one race sniffing for a podium. It was also the objective when I signed with the team that by 2020 we want to be hopefully spraying a bottle of champagne. I don’t want to set the expectation high, but I want to set the target high and I don’t want to back away from that because I think it’s important to keep the guys motivated. And just because this year maybe we underachieved for the most part, I don’t want them to feel that we don’t belong where we think we should be.
Have you been happy with the team’s recovery this year?
I’m excited because I think we’re still growing and bringing in new people. We’re also learning from our mistakes or I’m learning kind of a more clear direction where to take the car and what we need. What’s been really encouraging is the [spirit the] team demonstrated, and [team principal] Cyril [Abiteboul] demonstrated after the Japan stuff [the team was disqualified for a brake bias system that acted as a driver aid], we were all like, “we can’t believe it, how can this get any worse?” And Cyril was very good with the team. He said, “Guys, it is what it is. It can actually get worse. You never know what’s going to happen. So let’s just be prepared for whatever, whatever happens let’s just keep our chins up and know that if we keep persisting it’ll eventually work out. It might not be tomorrow, but it will.” I don’t know, I think the whole mindset and the mentality – we’ve never really been defeated, which is nice. Yeah, we’ve been let down a few times. But we haven’t been defeated and I think that kind of spirit in the team has been really nice to see.
How much behind the scenes work have you been doing?
Well, it’s been cool. I definitely feel, you know what, now that a year’s passed I see the work I’ve put in personally with it – with engineering time and in the simulator, or whatever. And I’m like I’ve put in a lot of work this year. But I also feel, I don’t want to say guilty, but I could have done more as well. And in a way that’s exciting because next year I want to do more. Like I feel I’ve applied myself, I really feel I have. I’ve done that, but how can I be better? OK, I do spend time in the factory. But, yeah I could spend more time in the factory. I don’t know. I’ve got some ideas in my head how to be more of a leader, in a way – not just on-track, show a bit more presence. But not just walk around into the factory and shake everyone’s hand – but actually involve them in some team building exercises and some stuff like that. I’m definitely happy with what I’ve done this year, and it wasn’t easy coming into a new team and trying to establish yourself and I think I did well and the team allowed me to fit in. But now that I’m kind of a little bit established, I want to do more and take it to that next step.
Contract talks for 2021 will start next year. With 2021’s rules and regulations not far off, do you see Renault as a big beneficiary of that change?
Yeah, the way the regulations are – it’s certainly, at least on paper, it should favour more us and our battle group that we’re in at the moment. But that’s going to be the fascinating, exciting part of all the silly season next year. And if Mercedes, let’s say, dominate again next year. It’s like will this change in 2021? And will their dominance come to an end? There’s a lot of calculations to make as well. But I think the easiest thing for me to do is do everything I said I would do here, then that works and I stay. And I don’t have to deal with too much. But it should favour us a bit more but you never know and to be honest I haven’t actually dived too much into the 2021 thoughts yet. Yeah, who knows, I want to be here for it, like I don’t plan on retiring at the end of next year. I’m excited for 2021 and wherever everyone is that should be cool.
You must feel vindicated that you made the right move now, with Red Bull having a similar season and unable to fight for the title?
Yeah, I do – and I think you’re exactly right, like yes, Red Bull has had some wins and more podiums than we have. So yes, they’ve done better than us. But I think that was always a given this year. And you’re right, my objective of staying at Red Bull was to fight for a title and if I wasn’t doing that this year then I knew I would have felt let down or frustrated or probably a bit over it. The facts are the facts here: they’ve had a very similar year to last year, so I definitely feel happy with making the move. So I guess the long and short of it is no regrets!
You’ve said previously fighting in the midfield this year has been good for your racecraft. What else have you learnt?
I think certainly the racecraft, I mean also putting emphasis on qualifying in terms of the midfield is so tight. You obviously always go to the limit in qualifying but knowing that one little mistake like half a tenth can put you out of Q3. And then obviously not only does it set you further back on the grid in the race but it throws you in the shit. And so there’s been some first laps, incidents this year that have been out of my control, but I’m taking some ownership of that and if I had qualified better then I would have been less likely the target to be hit. So as always it’s just put emphasis on qualifying, the race decision making on lap one, where you put the car. What else? I think as well sometimes it’s difficult to do but if faster cars are coming through then not fighting them. So like last weekend, [Red Bull Racing’s] Alex Albon was coming through on fresher tyres and I mean I could have floored it and maybe survived for one or two laps but I think eventually he was going to get me with his pace and tyres and it would drawn me back into I think Carlos [Sainz] and Lando [Norris]. So sometimes you’ve got to swallow your pride and think a little bit further down the track. So letting Albon go meant that I would lose less time and have a better chance to hold sixth, then fall back into seventh or eighth. It’s not always easy letting a guy past but your mindset changes a little bit.
You have a new group managing you this year. How has that helped what you’re doing day to day?
I guess I change more or less my whole team around me this year and I felt it was time to have a more put-together structure – and some of that was my own fault. I kind of employed people along the way and it didn’t really fall into a happy circle. Someone was here doing that, and someone over there and it was just a bit disjointed. I got to know CAA Sports through Red Bull, because they were doing some work with Red Bull the last few years. So I got to know a few of the guys already then and I did start to become curious what a big agency could provide for me and then through all the change last year – and I started to speaking to them a little more. And it was you know what now is the right time for a new chapter, so that’s been really good. I’m happy. And it’s quite a young group. So I feel like we’re, with a lot of things, it’s just easy to get on with – we’re on the same page a lot. So I’m really happy with it. Obviously there was a bit of stuff to deal with at the start of the year, clearing everything up. But I’ll also learn from that. But now that it’s all kind of done I feel good about it. And I’m happy.
If you get that podium next year, will we see a shoey?
Absolutely. It’s been too long not to. And you know at Red Bull I started to say I’d only do it with a win but no if I get one next year – my next podium, period – there will be shoey.
Finally, what will Daniel Ricciardo be doing over the off-season?
I’ll go back home to Perth for a bit and then I don’t know what I’ll do January. I’m always tempted to visit more of Australia. I spend the year away so I’m always torn because I’m home and my family is there and I feel bad leaving them. So I normally end up staying around Perth. But I went to Byron Bay a few years ago absolutely loved it. I’d love to go back. I really want to go to Melbourne away from the race. It will be summer and getting into Australian Open time. I don’t know. I’ve got some ideas but I think for the most part I’ll stay in Australia. But Melbourne I don’t get to see during the race, and all my friends will go out and be like we went to this cool bar or restaurant. So, maybe I’ll do a quick visit. ■
INTERVIEW BY STEWART BELL
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