British Grand Prix: Daniel Ricciardo: 'The rush you get is awesome'
Last updated on .From the section Formula 1
|British Grand Prix|
|Date: 8-10 July Venue: Silverstone|
|Coverage: Live text and radio commentary across BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, the BBC Sport website and mobile app.|
Daniel Ricciardo half gets up. Proper, prolonged eye contact. Shakes your hand with that big, bright smile that lights up the Red Bull motorhome. Or pretty much anywhere, really.
Just his demeanour, his natural joyfulness, makes you warm to him, but there's real humour there, too.
This interview is primarily for the BBC Sport website, you tell him. But this big microphone you're holding, it's so it can run on 5 live, too, if necessary.
"So no swearing, then," he says.
"Shall I get it out now?"
"OK." And there follows a succession of lurid curse words straight out of the movie Old School, said with the comic timing of The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker.
"Done," Ricciardo says, the smile broader than ever. "Got it." And then that back-of-the-throat chuckle he has.
This is 'smiley Dan'. Perhaps the most genuinely light and outwardly happy Formula 1 driver there has ever been.
But there is another side to the 27-year-old Australian, too.
What's the honey badger thing?
He calls it 'the honey badger'. His own nickname for himself. If you don't know, it's an African animal famous for its ferociousness.
For Ricciardo, there is no contradiction in these two apparent opposite sides to his character.
"The smiley one is me," he says. "That's an everyday Daniel and it's just me enjoying life and trying to be grateful, I guess, about the opportunity.
"It's easy to get into the competition of F1 and you are never going to win every race even though you want to. So when you're not winning, you want to win so you're not that happy.
"But you have to look at the big perspective and I am very fortunate to be one of 22 in the world to do this.
"So from that side I am always pretty happy and I always get here on a Thursday and I'm ready to go and excited and that's that.
"But the more honey badger side is the real competitive side. It also comes out in training during the week, which people don't really see. That is what really keeps me in the sport and love the sport; it's competition.
"I know that I'll joke around to the last minute I get in the car. But once the helmet's on - it's sort of a cliche, but it's true - it's quite symbolic that that is 'go time' and I'm ready to have some fun and be bad while I do it."
How good is Ricciardo?
Before he was promoted to Red Bull from Toro Rosso for the start of the 2014 season, 'smiley Dan' was all most had noticed of him in F1. There had been flashes of star quality through his two-and-a-half year apprenticeship - briefly with the now-defunct HRT and primarily Red Bull's junior team - but the cars were not good enough for most to see it.
His team-mate that first year at Red Bull was Sebastian Vettel, fresh from winning his fourth consecutive world title. Many wondered how this happy-go-lucky Aussie would cope with a man many at the time were hailing as one of the greatest drivers of all time.
Ricciardo had no doubts, always backed himself, as Australian sportsmen like to say. And it did not take long for the world to begin to see what he was made of.
He out-qualified and beat Vettel in their first race together and never looked back, taking three brilliant victories, none better than the one in Hungary.
F1 had a new star. Someone whose aggressive yet elegantly smooth driving style combined a rare feel for the car on the limit, a phenomenal talent for pulling that 'special' lap in qualifying, a gentle touch with his tyres and an ability to produce the killer pass when it mattered. The full package, in other words.
'Ping-pong' with Vettel
Ricciardo's overtaking manoeuvres have attracted some criticism from time to time for being too close to the edge - not least from Vettel himself in Spain this year after one particularly ambitious (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt.
Ricciardo sees no reason to apologise - and can't resist a little pop at his old team-mate at the same time.
"I would describe it a bit like a game of ping-pong, actually (laughs) - according to Mr Vettel," he says, referencing the complaint the German made over the radio at the time.
"With overtaking, it is one of those ones, as a junior I felt I left so many races thinking: 'Aah, maybe I could have tried there. It probably wasn't there but maybe I could've.'
"It was too many indecisions. I don't know; some things which left me guessing. Since then I grew up basically and I matured and I would much rather go out trying than not try at all.
"Since I got to F1, and especially since I got to Red Bull Racing, I said: 'I don't want to have any regrets. I've got a chance now in a top team. I want to leave it all on the table.'
"So if I see a gap, I wanna go for it and have conviction in myself that I can do it. It's fun as well. You know, overtaking is nearly as fun as winning races. The rush you get from it is awesome. I'll always try and keep that tenacity in me."
Frustration at opportunities missed
This year, the 'honey badger' has surfaced in other ways, too. By rights, Ricciardo should have two wins already but he lost both through no fault of his own - a strategy error in Spain and a pit-stop fumble in Monaco.
Ricciardo has said that, after Monaco, he was so angry he had to take a few days to himself to calm down before running through with Red Bull what had gone wrong.
He has pointed out that he was 27 and had not yet had a chance of fighting for a world championship. His sense of injustice, that time was ticking by on his best years without the success he felt he deserved, was clear.
He admits bringing that up in the aftermath of the tyre mix-up fiasco of Monaco was because he was was "quite emotional after the race and it was a bit of anger and frustration".
He adds: "It all boils down to belief. I felt I have done a lot in the last few years to get myself here, and my little team around me have helped me really feel like it's time to bring in the big rewards. I really feel like I am doing everything I have to do.
"It is one of those ones that, you know, you can't help but look back at Vettel and say: 'He won four world titles before he was 27.'"
And you beat him, you say.
"Yeah," he replied. "I'm not saying I should have five but I should at least be in the hunt for one. I believe I am not just here to make up the numbers and it's just a bit of anger/conviction coming out."
The Verstappen effect
Part of that emotion, he says, was rooted in the fact that the Spain win went instead to Max Verstappen, an 18-year-old, on his debut as Ricciardo's team-mate.
Such has been the impression that the Dutchman has made since he burst on to the F1 scene with Toro Rosso at the start of last season that many are talking about him as the next superstar.
Verstappen has out-scored Ricciardo since they became team-mates - directly because of the errors that have affected the Australian's results.
But what has been less noticed is that Ricciardo had comfortably beaten Verstappen in qualifying every time until the British Grand Prix.
"Some people say, 'Look, he's already the best driver on the grid' and this and that," Ricciardo says, "and I'm like: 'Hold on a minute.'
"Everyone believes in themselves. But at the same time I didn't take anything away from Max's win. He did what he had to do that day. It was more just circumstances on my side didn't work out.
"At the same time, he is a legitimate driver. He's a challenge. He's another top guy for all of us to compete with and he's only going to get better because he's young. So it's interesting.
"It's gonna be fun and I'm glad I have got someone to really give me a hard time. I think that's what everyone needs."
Ricciardo believes the performance advantage he had over Daniil Kvyat in the first four races was a direct cause of the decision to demote the Russian from Red Bull to Toro Rosso.
"Even though 'Dany' got the podium in China, my performances were significantly better than his at that point in the season and that's inevitably why the team thought: 'Let's do something different,'" Ricciardo says.
Has he had to raise his game since Verstappen replaced Kvyat, as some have said?
He replies: "I thought I was already driving very well but, again, whenever someone new steps in, you feel like you've always got to prove a point: 'Red Bull's now got this guy on board and they obviously think he's the next big thing. I need to remind them why I am still the best guy and this and that.'
"It's always like that. He does have a lot of talent. His raw speed is very good. So if I'm ever thinking about turning it down for whatever reason, I think he'll keep me on my toes."