Formula 1

Three things Ricciardo’s first F1 comeback interview revealed

by Matt Beer
7 min read

If restoring his enthusiasm for Formula 1 and his self-belief is all Daniel Ricciardo needed to get over his McLaren struggles and impress on his comeback with AlphaTauri then he will be in great shape for the Hungarian Grand Prix, based on the impression he gave in his first interview since his return to the grid was announced.

But he’s also aware both of what he’s up against as he replaces Nyck de Vries in one of the worst cars on the grid, and of how this might be a route into the best car on the grid.

Those elements were equally clear in the interview with F1’s in-house reporter Lawrence Barretto that F1 published on its YouTube channel on Saturday.

Here are the three standouts from what Ricciardo said in the 15-minute chat.

RED BULL AND TIME OFF HAVE REVITALISED HIM MENTALLY

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Ricciardo turned down chances to stay on the F1 grid with midfield teams after his McLaren exit because the punishing experience of two years mostly struggling alongside Lando Norris left him desperate for a break from F1 to try to fully fathom what had gone wrong and whether he even wanted to be part of the championship anymore.

While he spoke of how much good simply having a break after 17 years of being “full on” since coming to the European junior racing scene has done him, returning to the organisation that steered his early career and first brought him into F1 has clearly proved to be the ideal choice for ensuring that mental boost.

He has always been ultra-candid and professional in his media engagements across both the worst and best moments of his career, but the combination of enthusiasm and serenity with which he reflected on the last 12 months and what’s up ahead in the F1 video definitely gave the impression he is in a much better place mentally than prior to his Red Bull return.

“Falling out of a bit of love with it was that I took a bit of a hit on my confidence,” Ricciardo said of his feelings about F1 at the end of 2022.

“And of course if you’re competing in a sport where you’re trying to be the best in the world at something, you obviously need full confidence, full belief, all of it.

“And when that starts to diminish a little bit, the enjoyment starts to drop as well. There were just a lot of factors.

“And then getting back to Red Bull and just kind of the reception I had walking back into that team was – in a positive way – a little bit overwhelming.

“And then getting back on the sim, I was still a bit unsure how it was going to go, if the car would feel like it used to and if I was going to be – for the lack of better words – like the old me.

“Once I’d done a few sim sessions and started to feel like myself again, it then just brought me back to normal Daniel where I was falling back in love and ready to go again.”

He described how attending the Super Bowl back in February and the sheer atmosphere of being at a high-level sport event again reminded him of some of what had made him love his own career, but that for the first few F1 races he attended as Red Bull reserve he was still trying to figure out the “has that fire slowly burned away?” element about his own competitiveness and motivation.

“I gave myself the time, figured it all out, and then it’s like you wake up one day, it’s that feeling where you’re like ‘OK, it’s go time’,” he said.

“And that was the mentality after a couple of months off: ‘OK, it’s time to build this thing back up’.”

ALPHATAURI CHARACTERISTICS COULD HAVE A BIG IMPACT

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During the interview, Ricciardo repeatedly hinted that what he’d learned during what he called his “six months off” had been very beneficial and that part of it had involved looking at some of the mistakes he’d made in his career.

What he didn’t make explicit was whether he was referring to an approach or mindset, or factors relating to driving style – having never consistently mastered what it took to make the McLarens of 2021 and 2022 (spanning two very different technical regulations) go fast.

As Edd Straw explained on The Race earlier this week, the 2023 AlphaTauri’s biggest problems have been rear-end instability in the late-entry phase for slower corners that then transitions to understeer in the middle of the corner. This may not be a confidence-inspiring combination.

There were suggestions that Red Bull was initially surprised at just how affected Ricciardo’s driving was by his McLaren experience when he got back on the simulator. Although talk that he was spectacularly quick in his tyre test with Red Bull this week – on the day his comeback was announced – has to be taken with a pinch of salt given how unrepresentative the Pirelli-controlled set-up parameters and tyre compounds will have been at such a test, the mere fact that the Red Bull organisation is willing to put him back in one of its F1 cars suggests it’s confident he is driving well again.

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But the F1 car he’s actually going to race is not a great one.

Ricciardo’s hope at the moment is that the AlphaTauri is slow but benign, without too many problematic vices.

“The car will be what it is, I’m going to drive it and then work from there,” said Ricciardo.

“I don’t want to get too many preconceived ideas. I appreciate the car’s going to have its limitations, I imagine they’re just lacking some overall downforce, but I think if it’s a car that feels balanced – it might not have as much grip as the Red Bull I drove a few days ago, but if it feels relatively balanced – then that’s something I can work with. But I’m looking forward to also developing it and using my experience.

“But for Budapest, just go out and have fun, just more right foot than left and have a good time.”

HE KNOWS PEREZ’S SEAT IS VULNERABLE

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo’s return with AlphaTauri comes amid a string of troubled races for Sergio Perez, who after hinting with his Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan victories that he really might challenge Max Verstappen for the title, has watched his dominant Red Bull team-mate surge away unchallenged in the championship while even making Q3 has repeatedly been beyond Perez.

Interviewer Barretto trod carefully with how to introduce the prospect of replacing Perez at Red Bull Racing in his conversation with Ricciardo, but suggested that Red Bull had put ‘the ball in his court’ in terms of where this might eventually lead.

Ricciardo made several references in the interview to his mid-season return and getting the call about it from Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko reminding him of how it felt as he was given ever bigger opportunities on his rise through Red Bull’s pecking order from Formula Renault 3.5 seats to getting his chances to win grands prix with Red Bull Racing from 2014.

And he brought it back to that feeling when asked the question that hinted at the next step above AlphaTauri.

“That’s why it feels a bit like back when I was working my way up through in the Red Bull family and that was it: ‘if you get results, then we’ll keep pushing you, we’ll keep pushing you’. So that’s really the mindset,” he replied initially.

But he didn’t voice the obvious destination for where he could be pushed up to next if this went well, instead instantly turning the conversation back to AlphaTauri.

“I know it’s been tough for the team to gets a points finish this year so to push this car and try to get it inside the top 10, that would get everyone pretty fulfilled and excited,” he concluded.

He’d earlier joked that Red Bull had told him the expectation was “just be a legend really” before suggesting that it was a more nebulous but pragmatic desire for him to just impress within the limitations of his new car.

“They expect results, performances. It’s hard to define. Until I get in the car, it’s hard to define what that is – is it a P8, is it a P14?” Ricciardo said.

“I don’t think there’s pressure, until the summer break there’s two races so I don’t think there’s a ‘you have to do this before August’.

“But I also don’t expect to get off to a slow start, I want to hit the ground running and also use what I’ve learned in this time off.”

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