15 April 2019 10:30
Daniel Ricciardo has given up a race-winning Formula 1 seat to throw his lot in with an ambitious but (so far) firmly midfield team. F1 Racing Magazine's JAMES ROBERTS dropped in to Enstone to ask him the real reason for ditching Red Bull in favour of Renault and why he thinks this strange career move will pay off.
Getting a Formula 1 driver to pose for the camera can often be as hard as extracting blood from a stone, but Daniel Ricciardo is finding it tricky to keep a straight face. Glaring into the lens is causing fits of giggles. "I can do fake laughing instead," he says to our photographer, bursting into guffaws.
Unless they're doing what they want to do, most F1 drivers can best be described as irritable away from the track. If they're not behind the wheel, then life suddenly becomes a bit of a chore. Has someone remembered to pick up my bag? Does this decaf coffee contain almond milk? Is my PS4 controller charged?
Other drivers struggle to have a conversation beyond what they ate for breakfast. But none of the above apply to Danny Ric. He acts and thinks differently to his fellow racers. He likes a joke, isn't afraid to speak his mind and doesn't believe self-centeredness is a virtue. He even considers Monaco to be a bit "meh".
On this spring morning, Ricciardo is honest and open about his surprising career switch from Red Bull to Renault - a team, remember, that hasn't won a race since 2013 (in its previous guise as Lotus). He bounces into the Enstone factory with a purposeful stride and charismatic zeal. Every request is greeted with zero hassle. And yet, one of the most wearisome phrases you hear is, 'he's too nice to win' or he 'lacks killer instinct.'
Seven grand prix victories and a reputation as one of the best overtakers in the business belittles that argument. Don't be fooled. The laidback, happy-go-lucky demeanour isn't indicative of indifference. There is a ruthless, competitive spirit burning inside the man from Perth and he's deeply passionate about winning.
"There were times last year I thought, 'I just want to get out of here'," he says frankly, about his final season at Red Bull. "I got frustrated and I had to ask myself why, sometimes, do I hate it so much? But the reason is because I care. If Formula 1 meant nothing to me, then I would just shrug my shoulders, walk away and go and party with my friends. But I believe I belong in F1, and belong at the top."
As soon as the flashbulbs have stopped firing, the 29-year old sits down at a table overlooking the Oxfordshire countryside and opens-up about the real reasons for ditching the company that guided his career for nearly half his life.
He also explains rationally, the thinking behind a move to Renault, a decision that was criticised for many reasons. Why drive for the manufacturer that was to blame for many of the engine failings Red Bull suffered since the start of the hybrid era in 2014, when Ricciardo first emerged as a topline F1 driver? Why leave a race-winning, top-three side for a team that hasn't won in six years? Was it just for the money? And after being out-qualified by Max Verstappen in the past two years, why - in the words of Red Bull boss Christian Horner - was he "running away from the fight?"
"He's wrong, but I will defend people's opinion because he hasn't pulled that from nowhere and he's not the first person to say it," states Ricciardo, calmly and assuredly.