In his final Formula 1 driver column for redbull.com, Daniel Ricciardo was in a reflective mood as five years with Red Bull Racing comes to a close in Abu Dhabi, believing he raised the bar when it came to overtaking in the top flight.
During his years with Red Bull, Toro Rosso and the half season at HRT financed by the energy drinks money, he will have made 150 grand prix starts for them, scoring 29 podiums of which seven were for victories.
So, this is it, the last race for the team (and my last of these Diaries). It’s not like the news I’m moving on is new news, it’s been out there for months, but we’re in Abu Dhabi, and Sunday night is the end of a chapter for me and the team. Funny how the timing works too; one of my mechanics told me after Brazil that Abu Dhabi would be my 100th race with the team, so good to bring up the century on a big milestone for me.
I spent the week between Brazil and Abu Dhabi on the road, so it wasn’t until I headed to the last race that I started to look back and began reminiscing about the journey with the team. There’ll be some emotion with the team and all of that, that’s natural, but the way I’m looking at it, I’m hardly retiring, I’m still racing. But there’ll be time to be nostalgic and reason to as well. It’ll be good, in a way.
Doing 100 races, it’s gone quick. Australia 2014 doesn’t even seem that long ago. The ones I’ll remember most … you always gravitate towards the seven wins, but there’s been others as well. Of the wins, Hungary in 2014 is certainly one that was significant for me, as it marked my confidence and my hunger to win.
Having to hunt people down, passing Lewis and Fernando in the last few laps… that race marked the point where I felt like, yes, I belonged up the front and I had supreme confidence and zero intimidation from anyone. It kind of set up the label of who I’ve become now, what my reputation is in F1.
Daniel: I heard this roar and I thought ‘holy shit, maybe I’m on pole
Melbourne 2014 – number one of the 100 – is one of the races I’ll always remember, there were lots of little things about that which are very vivid in my memory. Qualifying there, where it was raining and I was second … maybe it was because it was the first race for the new cars and they were quieter, but when I crossed the line in qualifying, it was the first time I’d ever heard a crowd from inside the car.
I heard this roar and I thought ‘holy shit, maybe I’m on pole!’… it was crazy. I was on inters in the rain, first race with the new team, home race … I was the brave kid who made the ballsy call, and I look back at that now and think that it was a really important race in my time at Red Bull. I went two feet in that day, was decisive, and that set the tone for the driver I was to become, especially in that first year up against Seb (Sebastian Vettel).
That year, it just clicked. I always knew I had that in me, but I was able to put it all together that year, and that confidence from that year has carried on since. That style of racing was always there. It was the same in karting when I was younger, I didn’t start off being that aggressive or being that good at overtaking, it just took time.
I won three of my seven races with Red Bull in that ’14 season, so that’s the year I look back at being the most fun for me and the most important for my career since. The wins were big, and I had a massive battle with Fernando in Germany where we raced really hard but fair, and he had some praise for me afterwards which was big at the time.
Not many people were doing that, coming from a long way back and trying big passing moves
I feel 2014 didn’t just shape me and my approach from then on, it changed the level of overtaking from other guys in the sport as well. I really believe that. Not many people were doing that, coming from a long way back and trying big passing moves.
Maybe they learned from me and the way I was racing, so perhaps I set a new level and showed people what was possible, and the drivers that were willing to try it were trying it. I realise that sounds a bit cocky, but I really do believe that. Not saying all of them can do it … but at least more of them are trying!
It was something that I always wanted because I was always perceived by others as the nice guy, a soft touch and that sort of thing. For me to develop the reputation that was the polar opposite to what people maybe thought I was, that was even better. It takes a while to shake off something like Bahrain 2012 when I was at Toro Rosso when I got pushed around on the first lap, that was a setback to my reputation for sure. I didn’t want that feeling, and it took time to shake off.
When you do five years and 100 races with a team, there’s so many people you come across and you work with, and it’s almost unfair to bring up individual names. I feel like I’ve had good relationships with every mechanic that’s ever worked on my car, for example. But Simon (Rennie), my race engineer, is someone I need to single out.
Daniel: Simon is someone I’m going to miss going into battle with on Sundays
Simon and I couldn’t be more different out of the car, our personalities are really as contrasting as you could get, but we’ve had this fantastic relationship where he understands me and we never second-guess one another. I always felt he knew what I wanted or what I meant, and I always trusted him to make the right calls.
I never questioned him. He feeds off the battles with me, if I say something on the radio that’s hungry, he’s right with me. He’s someone I’m going to miss going into battle with on Sundays.
The mechanics … the amount of times they’ve rallied between an FP3 and a qualifying session and got me out there … I wouldn’t have won China this year without them, and that was probably the most satisfying ‘team’ moment of the times I’ve had here.
Come Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, that’s when it will all hit me. I’m not driving the test after the race, so I’ll head back to Europe and close everything off, say my goodbyes, go to the team’s Christmas party and that sort of thing.
I’m sure some drivers would be like ‘Christmas party? I’ve left the team now, who cares?’, but I feel being there is right, for the people who work in the factory and the whole team, to show the gratitude I have for the last five years of work everyone has done.
And then it’s off to see my new team, and then on one final flight to get some downtime back in Oz. I’m keen to be in one time zone for a sustained period, get my body to reset and switch off the brain. It’s been a long year.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with me for the past five years, and the three years we’ve been doing these diaries. It’s been fun and I always notice the support, so thanks. Guess I’ll see you on the other side …
Daniel was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.