Daniel Ricciardo: Why it's F1 or nothing, holding off Michael Schumacher and my first podium shoey

Daniel Ricciardo - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Daniel Ricciardo - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Daniel Ricciardo is heading back to Red Bull next season as a reserve driver after being left without a race seat for 2023. The Australian won seven races for Red Bull between 2014 and 2018. He added an eighth career win for McLaren last year but this season often struggled to keep up with team-mate Lando Norris.

In the build-up to what could be his final race in Formula One, Telegraph Sport sat down in the Abu Dhabi paddock with the Australian driver.

So come on then, Daniel, is this your last F1 race?

It could be. I’m not treating it like it is, but yeah it could be. There are no guarantees for 2024. I believe I’ll want to be back but whether there’s a seat available we’ll have to see. Obviously in a way it’s a risk not racing next year but it’s something I’m at peace with. I think with the Haas thing [he rebuffed an approach] it just wasn’t the right thing for me next year. I just think, for me, a Haas, or another midfield team let’s say, wasn’t right. I’m feeling OK about it. I just want to enjoy this weekend. As I said, I’m not going to act like it’s my last, I’m just going to enjoy it in case.

Any news on a potential reserve role for next year?

It’s still ongoing. It’s the most likely option for me to keep a foot in the door.

Ricciardo drinks champagne from his shoe - EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL
Ricciardo drinks champagne from his shoe - EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL

Mercedes or Red Bull?

Oooh. TBC. But yeah, I’ve obviously been open in saying I want to get my foot in at a top team and that’s the most likely route.

Are you ruling out going Stateside?

It’s a question I’m getting asked a lot at the moment. People are like: ‘But you love the States! You could ride in on a horse every week!’

But I don’t know. I’m still kind of like: F1 or nothing. And that’s not being snobby or arrogant. It’s just where I’ve invested my whole life and I just feel like I’m not ready to let that go.

Memories of your first race? Silverstone 2011 wasn’t it?

Yep that’s it, for Hormone Replacement Therapy [HRT, Hispania Racing Team]. I still remember pulling up to the grid at the end of the qualification lap – I think I qualified last – and I remember seeing, I think it was Jarno Trulli in front of me, in a Caterham I guess it was. And I’ve still got that image of: ‘Oh my gosh, I’m about to start my first ever F1 race!’

That’s still very vivid. It was very cool. I also remember on the drivers’ parade lap, there were a few Aussie flags and Mark Webber nudging me and saying: ‘A few for you now’. And I was like: ‘Shut up. Let’s be real. No one knows my name yet’.

I was a bit of a rabbit in the headlights that weekend. I remember walking into the paddock on the Wednesday feeling like a bit of a headless chuck. I didn’t know any of the teams. It feels like a long time ago now. I feel like a different person, more in terms of character than as a driver you know? I was young, I was intimidated, I lacked the confidence I have now I guess.

Pick out three highlights from your 231 race starts

Ooh, I’m going to go leftfield. Suzuka 2012. I defended from Michael Schumacher for the last maybe 10 laps, and that was for 10th place: the last point. And I hadn’t had many points in 2012, like, a top 10 for us [Toro Rosso] was a big deal. Was I intimidated to be on the grid with Schumacher? Absolutely. But through that defence I gained so much confidence. Every lap that passed I was kind of like: ‘He’s going to get me this lap – it’s Schumacher!’ But I kept my cool. The following race I remember he came up to me on the drivers’ parade and said: ‘Good job defending at the last race’. He didn’t need to do that. I hadn’t really had any dialogue with Michael at that point so for him to come up and acknowledge that I’d done a good job, I was like: ‘Wow!’ That definitely changed me a bit.

Then I’d probably say Melbourne 2014, my first race for Red Bull. The whole weekend I was kind of on a mission. A lot of people weren’t sold on me at that point. They knew I was quick but they didn’t think I had race-winning calibre. I qualified and finished second only to be disqualified [his car was ruled to have exceeded the mandated hourly fuel flow-rate limit]. But the whole weekend I felt like I performed under pressure.

Finally, I can’t ignore the first win in Canada in 2014, because while you always believe you can do it, it’s something else when you actually do do it. Until you do, you just can’t be sure. In that race I took the lead in the final chicane, and as I exited Turn 2 in Montreal, I had a strong fear that my hands would freeze and stop upshifting. Like one of those nightmares when you can’t move? I can still remember going from third, to fourth, to fifth ... upshifting...I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Dani...Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo kisses the trophy after winning the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal - NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Dani...Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo kisses the trophy after winning the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal - NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Watching George win last weekend brought those feelings back again. It’s maybe the best day of your life. I’m really happy for George. He’s a good kid.

Lowlights?

The first one that stands out is Monaco 2016. I just felt like we’d done the hard work, nailed it, and then what should have been a simple pitstop and run to the finish … I’d been at Red Bull 2½ years by that point. It wasn’t often that we could fight for wins. We had to have Mercedes fall off or something. So the fact we were genuinely quick… I wasn’t sure I would ever get that opportunity again. Plus, the race before I was leading and then we got called in for a three-stop strategy and Max stayed out on a two and won the race. So to have a strategy go wrong two weekends in a row was a huge blow. I was devastated after that.

And then the last couple of years with McLaren. In terms of consistent struggles that’s definitely been the toughest period of my career. The day I was told by Zak that I wouldn’t be driving [in 2023] ... I mean, I was prepared for change to some degree, I was expecting movement of some sort, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting that.

Toughest team-mate?

It depends how you judge ... I mean, one of my toughest rivals was actually Jean-Eric [Vergne] just because we grew up together in the Red Bull academy and we got to F1 and we were friends but it was weird because we had a very strong rivalry as well. We were both going for that Red Bull seat, especially once Mark announced his retirement. That got pretty heated. I wouldn’t say we were enemies but definitely fighting for that seat pushed our friendship.

Ricciardo at Toro Rosso in 2013 - Peter Fox/Getty Images
Ricciardo at Toro Rosso in 2013 - Peter Fox/Getty Images

But I still can’t go past Max [Verstappen]. Especially now when you see what he’s done. And then Lando, he has, let’s say, handed it to me in my time at McLaren. And while I don’t feel I’ve fulfilled my potential here, I can’t deny that Lando is an exceptional talent.

Probably my most enjoyable team-mate was Sebastien Vettel. It’s not every day you get to go up against a four-time champion. And the season I had kind of propelled me to a driver that now everyone respects and talks about.

Funniest moment?

Probably that press conference when I thought the guy was Irish and he was actually Scottish [Ricciardo greeted the reporter with the phrase "top of the morning to you" before admitting he had “blown it” before finishing by saying "Viva Scotland!"

I think it was after my first shoey on the podium. I want to say I was a little tipsy in that press conference. Or maybe when I asked Lando if he was growing pubes yet, at Silverstone 2019.

It was a very childish joke of mine. It actually wasn’t very funny. But his reaction made it. Gold.

Regrets?

I guess people will say the moves I’ve made. But I don’t regret any of them because at the time I had good reasons to make the choices I made. I totally get that people say: ‘Oh well, if you’d stayed at Red Bull you would have more podiums or race wins now’. I can’t deny that. But was it going to be better for me? That’s hard to say. People don’t know what the situation was in the team. And I’m a grass is always greener kind of guy. So no, I don’t have regrets.

If you hadn’t been a F1 driver?

OK, semi-realistically? I’m going to say tennis player. I definitely wasn’t the next Roger Federer but my passion for the game was something that I would have pursued for sure. Non-realistically? Probably two wheels. Or UFC. I love it but I’m definitely more of a fan than an actual in-the-cage fighter.