Daniel's Debrief

Daniel Ricciardo gives us his verdict on Red Bull Racing’s 2016 season – and what he expects to see in 2017.

It’s been a long, hard season but a fruitful one for Daniel Ricciardo. He’s taken his first pole position, added to his collection of F1 victories and in total finished on the podium eight times on his way to third in the Drivers’ Championship. He’s also acquired a new team-mate and had a potential race victory snatched from his grasp in fairly miserable circumstances. Before heading off for warmer climes and a winter (or summer, depending on your point of view) of bulking up, he spoke to us about the highs and lows of 2016 and his hopes for the future.

Daniel, the RB12 proved more competitive than the RB11. What sort of difference does that make to your season?
Daniel Ricciardo. It’s just what you want, isn’t it? You want to have that carrot when you turn up at the track, knowing there’s a potential podium out there. To be able to come into nearly every race knowing there’s a realistic chance of getting a trophy just makes the whole experience a lot more fun. It’s not just that you get to stand up there and take the applause – though that feels great – but also that you’re going to be spending the weekend fighting at the front, against the biggest names in the sport and probably getting stuck into some good battles.

You want to have that carrot when you turn up at the track, knowing there’s a potential podium out there.

When did you have a good feel for how competitive the car was?
DR: To be honest, not during winter testing. We didn’t have a crazy pre-season. We knew we’d be top eight – but not how far up. Finishing fourth in Australia was good – Helmut [Marko] hugged me afterwards like we’d won the race but it was probably China, where we qualified P2 that we knew the package was competitive. Obviously, I had a puncture at the start in Shanghai which hurt my race but even coming back through the field after that was a positive sign: we could make good passes and it was starting to feel like it did in 2014. It wasn’t winning material but it was clearly good enough for podiums.

How did Max arriving affect your season?
DR: It was a big thing. Especially that first weekend in Spain which was pretty crazy, and not just because he won. I suspect the team didn’t know how good Max was and where he was going to fit. His win really gave us good energy and pushed us on to get stronger. In Spain everybody was watching, wondering if we’d made a mistake swapping Dany and Max around. I think his win was a relief more than anything, and it definitely pushed us on. Certainly it pushed me on.

I think I’d been at the right level from the start of the season – which may have caused some of the commotion in the first place because I had a better start than Dany. With Max, I felt we were pushing each other from the off. He was closer to me in qualifying and so naturally that provides a spur because you’re looking at each other’s data and finding an extra bit here and there. It makes you better.

What’s the most satisfying thing about 2016?
DR: I think the podiums are the icing on the cake. The thing which creates the really big satisfaction is knowing how much we’ve improved and seeing the rate at which it happened. Everyone fed off that and enjoyed the feeling. Everything we did to the car seemed to make it better. As drivers, that lifted our game and let us take the opportunities the car was making.

2016 in quick fire:

  • Favourite race? I have to say Malaysia – though it was bloody hot! That last ten laps sucked. Singapore was good too. Chasing Rosberg at the end was a lot of fun.  
  • Most proud of? My improvements. Still learning!
  • One thing you learnt about Max? That he’s pretty quick for a guy just starting puberty. Also he has better taste in music than Dany.
  • 2017, good for? My awesome beach body in the mirror. Also, fans watching from high-speed corners will be impressed with what the new cars can do. 
  • 2016 in one word? Radness!

The low, obviously, was the outcome on Sunday...

What were your high and low points? We can probably guess…
DR: Yeah, the came within 24 hours of each other! And not the good way around. I love Monaco, I live there but the race weekend is something else. It’s another world and I love the buzz. Whenever we’re racing in Monaco I’m super-motivated to the point of having to be careful about not getting too excited. That wasn’t easy this year because I went there expected to be on pole. I honestly believed it would happen because, if the car was working well, it was going to be on. That probably put a bit of pressure on myself, so when I pulled it off it was very rewarding – but also a little bit of a relief too.

The low, obviously, was the outcome on Sunday where we had the pitstop problem. I’d have been very surprised if, before the season started, somebody had told me I’d be second in Monaco and absolute hate it.

Looking at the positives, how good was your first pole position lap. Was the time in the car or did you pull out a special performance?
DR: I felt I put the lap together perfectly. I don’t think there was a corner where I could have got more out of it. I knew when I crossed the line that it would be enough – or at least I’d have been very surprised if anyone went better later in the session. The car wasn’t perfect at the start of the lap, there was a bit of understeer going into Casino Square – but watching the onboards from the other drivers it seemed like everyone had that so it was probably just the condition of the track at that point in the weekend. When we got to my favourite part of the circuit, around Tabac and the Swimming Pool, it was right on the edge.

Swimming Pool was flat out and I think it was the second chicane there that made the difference. Watching it back [not that I fixate on watching myself on TV over and over again, I’m not that vain] it just looked quick through there, which isn’t usually the case. Nice to be on pole. Nice to look good doing it too.

What are your thoughts on 2017?
DR: Excited! But at the same time I’m not going to get too excited. I believe we will have a good package. I believe the work the team is doing is the right work – but you never know what everyone else is doing. I’m looking forward to finding out. I’m looking forward to the physical challenge too.

2017? Excited! But at the same time I’m not going to get too excited.

Is it going to be very different?
DR: I think so. If it’s similar to the speeds I was hitting while testing in 2009-2010 then it’s a significant step up. To cut a long story short, if we retain the leanness we have now with our body weight, we might struggle physically. I think everyone will be putting on a few kilos to cope with the forces. To put numbers on it. If next year is 100 per cent of our physical strength, then this year we’ve been at 75 per cent.

Is the regulation change an opportunity or an unwanted distraction?
DR: I honestly think it’s a good thing for us. It seems to put more emphasis on aerodynamics and I have a lot of faith in our aerodynamics department. It’s out strong suit. From that point of view I don’t think it can hurt us. Also, I think the cars are going to look pretty bad-ass. Mean, wider tyres, more muscular. Grrrrrr…

How do you expect the team dynamic between Max and yourself to change next year?
DR: Well, I’m not naïve. If we’re fighting for wins I’m sure the pressure and tension will rise – but hopefully we’ll be able to look each other in the eye and say “good job” afterwards.

Sepang was the first place we saw the pair of you really competing for a place. Is that a sign of things to come?
DR: Hopefully – because that was really cool!  I know for sure that when we were side by side we were both thinking it was our position and the other guy was in the way. We were going for it 100 per cent. But I think we both knew the limit of the car and our responsibility to the team. You trust your own ability but also the ability of the other guy.