Daniel Ricciardo made his F1 race debut mid-season for HRT. He had a difficult car, a good team-mate and no testing time. It’s the sort of opportunity that makes many drivers hesitate because it’s a tough ask: get it wrong and a promising career can be over in an instant.
On the other hand, if you’ve dedicated your life to the thought of one day racing an F1 car, then it’s pretty difficult to turn down. Fortunately, Daniel has shone for HRT, bringing the car home, not doing anything stupid, and increasingly getting the better of team-mate Tonio Liuzzi. Something that Sebastian Vettel in similar circumstances did not manage back in 2007. Flushed with the success of qualifying 21st for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (everything is relative) Daniel sat down for a chat, in this, his 20th week as an official F1 racing driver.
So, Daniel, is the job easier now than when you started?
DR: It’s much, much more comfortable. Yeah, it feels more normal and natural. It’s a big improvement compared to my first race of the year back in July at Silverstone. When I scan the pass to come into the paddock for the first time on Wednesday or Thursday, I feel quite relaxed and at home now.
What’s surprised you most about the challenge of racing an F1 car? What did you not expect?
DR: From inside the car, the things that I had to learn were how to use the tyres and how to drive a race that was one-and-a-half to two hour long, which I’d never done before. So, for me, it’s a case of keeping concentration and making sure I’m not destroying the tyres – which means finding a different driving style or different set-up to help for the race. But to answer the question, the biggest thing would be the Pirelli tyre. I guess the other guys got most of their knowledge in pre-season testing.
Back in the summer your steering wheel wasn’t in quite the right place – has that been fixed now?
DR: No, it’s exactly the same as when I started! But it’s a funny story. I had a new seat made at the Nürburgring and it was ready a few races ago. I tried it and it wasn’t good! So I’m still using what I started with but it seems I’ve got used to it. So I can’t use it as an excuse anymore!
The last five races you’ve had three tracks you’ve never driven, one track nobody had ever driven and Abu Dhabi where you did a long test last year for Red Bull Racing. Are the challenges different?
DR: I think fortunately I always seem to learn a new circuit quickly. So for Suzuka, Korea, these places, I’ve been dialled in before qualifying and pretty much knew where to go. And the Red Bull simulator helps that as well. Here was a bit easier because I’d done all of those laps before but at the same time it was also difficult because the reference points are changed a lot. Obviously the differences between the two cars are fairly big. Although I knew the circuit and the lines coming to Abu Dhabi, I couldn’t exactly do what I was doing last November, because maybe I could take more kerb with the Red Bull RB6 or brake 10m later or whatever. But, long story short, at this level I think by qualifying everyone’s ready and it doesn’t make much of a difference.
You’re one of four rookies racing this year. How do you think you’ve all done as a group?
DR: I think quite simply I’ve been the best and let’s leave it at that! Nah, just kidding, I’m not that cocky. I think I’ve been happy with myself that I’ve continued to learn. I think if I’d plateau’d already that wouldn’t be a good sign. I’m still young and still have a lot to learn in Formula One. If, say, by the third race I was already doing all I could, I’d have been a bit concerned. I think the rate of improvement has been fairly good, I think it’s been respectable. It would have been easier doing some winter testing with the team and get to know my engineer a bit better, but that’s showing now, that I’ve spent more time with him and we’re definitely making progress. I think if we can do this race and Brazil as strongly as the last few, then I’ll be happy with the season.