Daniel Ricciardo began this season in an unusual position for him – watching from the sidelines while everyone else went racing. The former Red Bull and Renault driver had left McLaren early and was back in the Red Bull setup as a test and reserve driver – before getting the call mid-season to don his racing boots once more to replace Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri.

    The eight-time Grand Prix winner is this week's guest on our Beyond The Grid podcast, and you can read every word from his interview with host Tom Clarkson in the transcript below, listen to the episode in the audio player, or head here to catch it on your preferred platform.

    Tom Clarkson: DR, it's great to see you again. Now, when you were last on the pod, you weren't sure what 2023 had in store, so how's it been?

    Daniel Ricciardo: I still don't know what it’s got in store! Of course, I remember our conversation about a year ago. I knew there was going to be some unknowns this year. That was kind of the excitement of getting into a season without a winter testing programme, without a seat. I was curious about what this year was going to entail, but I never in my wildest dreams thought that it would happen like this.

    TC: I definitely sensed that you wanted some time out as well. Is that true?

    DR: Yeah, because we sit a few feet away from each other, you obviously hear me speak, but I think you can feel a lot and see my expressions and emotions a little more. Yeah, I needed it. It was clear to me that I needed it, and I think once I took it, it then became clearer to me.

    My confidence, I lost that. Where did that go? It's funny, I look now and I'm not a coach to anyone, but I feel I could probably look, even in other sports, and maybe I could just look at the trend of a certain athlete and be like, ‘oh, that person needs time out.’

    TC: What are the tell-tale signs?

    DR: I was just a bit burnt out and I think obviously not madly in love with it. I think that’s obviously a big tell-tale sign because it's the reason we all really get into it, you know, passion comes first. I think the confidence was another thing. I think when I did my first simulator day at Red Bull, I realised, and the people there realised it. That made me realise I'm not really my true self.

    TC: When was that first simulator day? I remember Christian Horner coming to the next race and saying, ‘oh my goodness, he's developed a lot of bad habits since we last saw him.’

    DR: Yeah, and I think bad habits can just come in the form of a lack of confidence. It was the end of last year. Once the season was done, I jumped on the sim, I guess it was sometime in December before I went home for Christmas.

    Don't get me wrong, I was also nervous because I'm stepping back into an environment that, I knew Christian was very open doors, but I didn't know how other people at Red Bull felt about me coming back into the family, into the team, so I was also a little bit nervous with that.

    TC: Because of the way it ended in 2018?

    DR: Yeah. Obviously, there was me telling them that I was leaving. That's going to have its effect. But I think in that second half of the season, I think we all got over it as best as we could. It didn't end sour or bad, but I understand some people can be hurt or confused by it. I did have a contract available to me so it's not like the team never offered me something. They did, so me turning that down and going somewhere else, I understand that.

    And also, because I'm not coming off a high, I'm obviously coming off a pretty low season. I'm walking into the team that's won the championship. So are people going to be like ‘who's this washed up kid?’ Or are they going to be happy to see me back and happy to try and like resurrect me a little bit?

    READ MORE: Ricciardo on his sensational F1 return, getting back to the ‘old me’ and what’s possible with AlphaTauri

    TC: I find this so hard to believe, because I'm looking at an eight-time Grand Prix winner. I'm thinking of those Monaco poles. I'm thinking of ‘tripping major nutsack’ in Mexico! I can't believe that you were that low, for want of a better word…

    DR: I only saw how low I was after the fact. Walking into the factory that day, I was definitely a bit nervous, but there was a part of me which was definitely excited as well, because I realised maybe this is another chance, you know? And who better to do it with than the team that really got me here in the first place? The sim that day didn't go particularly well. Then obviously I went home for Christmas and had all this time off. I wasn’t completely myself.

    TC: How did you feel when the Formula 1 world gathered for pre-season testing in Bahrain and you weren't there? I don't know where you were in the world, but did you have a little bit of FOMO?

    DR: Not really, because I've never really liked pre-season testing! I was keeping an eye on it, but by that point I still hadn't really had enough time off to have the real FOMO and that burning desire. Over Christmas, when I'm home on my farm, riding dirt bikes and hanging out with my mates, being a very normal Perth kid, at that point, I wasn't invested in it. I didn’t even know if I'd watch the first race. But maybe that was a bit of a defence mechanism or something, I wasn't going to be surprised if I didn't really care about it too much.

    TC: Where were you when everyone else was in Bahrain?

    DR: By race one, I was back in the factory, and I think my first sim day was probably the day before Friday practice. I quickly became invested in it again and I think that's definitely the environment as well, you know, being back working with Simon Rennie, who was my engineer for all my time at Red Bull, all my sim days had been with him.

    There was just a lot of people who were from my time, they hadn't moved on and they'd gone through the highs and lows. I definitely had appreciation of them sticking through it, because it's not only drivers that can leave teams, everyone can jump around a bit. There was just a cool, cool feeling. I really did feel like I was home again. Even though I wasn't a race driver, there was just a lot going on which was giving me those good feelings back.

    TC: How quickly did the magic come back on the sim?

    DR: I’ll defend myself a little bit here. Every sim is different, right? We can't talk in too much detail about how they differ, but every team really builds their own sim pretty much, so there is also an element of just getting used to another sim. I think on my first day, some of my lack of speed was also just getting up to speed with the new system. I'm not saying that was all of it, I know you're trying to hold in laughter, but I'm not talking rubbish!

    After that, I started to get into it more and that was going hand in hand with also how I was starting to, I guess by March, miss it more. I started getting back into my physical training and getting off the couch. I think I just got it out of my system over Christmas. I had two months at home, which I never really ever had, other than COVID. I rode bikes with my mates. We would drink beer and have wine in the evenings and just kind of live like a more regular person, I guess, do regular things and not really have to wake up every morning with a goal or an objective or purpose.

    I felt like I just needed to do that for my own head and my sanity. But after a couple of months of that, I was not ready for this. I nearly needed to force that lifestyle just to understand if it was for me or not, if you know what I mean. Even like a regular season, we have a Christmas break, I'll go home and I will enjoy myself for a few weeks. But every beer I would drink, I know it's one more beer I have to work off come January.

    You're never mentally fully off, if that makes sense. I wanted to mentally be fully off during this break, which I was and it was nice to feel like that. But then it got to a point where that drive and that hunger just built back up. That's what I needed. I needed it to come from me. I didn't need someone else getting me out of bed because that's not my choice.

    TC: At what point of being a third driver did you suddenly think, ‘no I've got to go racing again’? I've got a suggestion as to when I think it was, looking from the outside, and that's Melbourne, turning up at your home race and not racing…

    DR: Melbourne was my first race attendance this season. It’s funny because I felt everything; I felt the home crowd and everyone was still going nuts as if I was a race driver, as if I was competing that weekend. It was obviously really nice to still have a lot of support. There was an element of, it’s an awesome feeling, it's a privilege, and I think that's also where I needed to step away to appreciate everything that the sport is. I've always been a guy to enjoy it and embrace the moment.

    Obviously, last year I just got to the point where I wasn't fully in love with it. I guess being forced in a way to sit on the sidelines made me see it through a different lens. Then I was like, this is a privilege. Twenty of us can do it. That was where it started to build up again, being on the ground, but I still wasn't there yet. It was going in the right direction and I knew my answer was that I will race again. But I wasn't foaming at the mouth where I needed to rip a driver out of their seat and jump in the car. That weekend in Melbourne, I was still happy letting this boil and I wanted to be like how Christian taps his feet on the pit wall, that kind of eagerness just to go.

    TC: Tell us a little bit about what you got up to completely away from Formula 1. A year ago on the pod, you were saying you wanted to go to the Super Bowl. You wanted to go on a road trip. Did you tick any of those boxes?

    DR: I ticked a few. Super Bowl was another, I would say, quite pivotal weekend, where being around competition, and obviously for the NFL at the highest level with the bright lights, with everything at its highest, also made me miss it. I loved being a fan. I loved being there just to fully enjoy it and not be invested in it, but there was a part of me which is like, ‘man, these guys are so lucky today. They are so lucky to be on the field and to be able to do this’.

    I would say the Super Bowl was where the dial got turned. We actually road-tripped back, we drove back to LA from there, so I got a bit of a road trip in, but not the big one I was planning and not the big one we talked about.

    TC: For those of you who don't remember, it was going to be Route 66 on 110cc motorbikes. You’d still be going now actually…

    DR: I know, I know. It's one for when I fully retire. There's still some boxes I‘ve got to tick, but I did get to fill the fun cup and that was something I really enjoyed. My buddy got married, so I got to not only go to his wedding, but also the bachelor party in Vegas. I'd never been to a bachelor party as far as I remember. I had the opportunity to do that this year and going to Vegas, having fun and just being a human, doing human things.

    READ MORE > BUXTON: Could Ricciardo’s racing return be the first step back to a seat at Red Bull?

    TC: And having taken a glimpse at life without Formula 1, albeit just for a couple of months, how do you view the next stage of your career in Formula 1?

    DR: I'm treating it like a second chance to go all in for this last part of my career. There are things that I'm going to do differently to make sure that all my energy is focused on going all in. But then there's also definitely an element of making sure that you're okay after racing, after your career. Especially in sport, you do it from such a young age, you’re not a businessman from five years old. Sport is a very rare career where you can start pursuing it so young that it's been your only purpose in life and it's consumed you and your family as well.

    When it's gone, I know that's where a lot of athletes can struggle with their identity, I guess. Where are they going to get that adrenaline from? Where are they going to get that drive? I'm aware that it's not easy for everyone also to transition to life after sport. I was also curious to know how my life could look and how I would be. I am obviously a positive person and normally just very easy-going. It's not something that I was necessarily concerned about, but you want that comfort of knowing that I'm going to be fine and I can enjoy other things in life.

    Racing is my passion, but it's not everything and it's not the be all and end all. I think I got that answer, which was really good. I think it allows me to come back for this second phase with, in a way, less pressure. Deep down I'm going all in and I want to put everything I can into it, but there is part of me which is also a little bit lighter.

    TC: Do you think you’ll be a better racing driver for it?

    DR: I hope to be a better racing driver. That's what I'm working on. Do I still want to be world champion? Yes. Has it been a dream of mine since I was a kid? Yes. But maybe it's just because I've seen Max, or whoever else, and they're still waking up the same person.

    I think you just take a little bit of pressure off it. It's not going to change me as a human. Therefore, it's not going to change my life moving forward. Yes, it will present some other opportunities if you are to achieve such a feat, but I know my mum and dad are going to look at me the same way, whether I'm a world champion or whether I'm not. It's probably a bit of perspective. I still want it and I still deep down believe I can do it, but it's really not going to change the course of my life.

    TC: Let's talk about the return to driving then. It happened at Silverstone, a couple of days after the British Grand Prix. You get to drive the best car on the grid, the Red Bull RB19. Tell us how that opportunity came about first of all.

    DR: The simulator stuff was going well and I was heavily invested again. I think my enthusiasm gets passed along. Christian's checking in as well. If he's not checking in directly with me, he's checking in with Simon. ‘How is Daniel going? Is it the old Daniel?’ There was obviously word of a Pirelli test. I think I might have even asked. I said, ‘look, I would love to drive this car.’ Okay, it's a very fast car, but I wanted to know if it was still familiar for me and if it could just bring my confidence back.

    That also gave me a bit of a target to work to in terms of making sure that I was fit and strong again. I think I liked that as well, having a little bit of a goal. Silverstone race weekend, I remember on the Sunday, you know, when the drivers do their laps to grid, come back and have that little bit of a break before going out for the anthem, I already started to mentally put myself in that position again, because I knew if this test went well, things could change quickly.

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Oracle Red Bull
    Daniel Ricciardo back behind the wheel of a Red Bull at a Silverstone test

    Then the test was a little bit like the sim. I was certainly a little bit nervous, but ultimately I was excited. I think some of the nerves were because, by July, I was at a point where I really had my confidence back, and I really believed I could do a great test. I had a little bit of nerves knowing deep down I could do it. ‘It's up to you now, this is in your hands. Honestly, your future could hang on this test.’ It was good to feel that pressure again. I wasn't pushing it back. I was embracing it again and all these things that I used to really thrive off, I was getting back.

    I did the first run and actually spun twice. In Turn 4, I had a spin in the very low speed hairpin, just a little bit eager on the throttle, and then I had a spin in Turn 7, I think. Another slow speed again. I did a tiny little loop and got it going, but it wasn't like I was in the gravel or anything. But I was okay with it. I wasn't like, ‘oh man, what are you doing?’ I didn't get in my head. I was just like, ‘oh well, makes sense. I haven't driven in seven, eight, nine months, whatever it was.’

    Even the way I brushed it off, I think it was really good for me because it just didn't faze me. Then I got back going and I started to put in some good times. The very first time I went through Turn 1 flat, I thought my helmet was going to fly off my head. You forget how intense it is on your body and how fast these cars are. That was also really cool to feel it again, because it made me really respect it.

    I did the first run with those couple of spins, came back in, so I did maybe eight laps or something, maybe 10. We put some new tyres on. We put FP2 fuel in the car. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, the first timed lap I did was on the money.

    TC: Now, by on the money, it was good enough to line up on the front row of the grid two days earlier?

    DR: It was a few hundredths of Max's pole time. Coming into that lap, I was so excited. I treated it like a qualifying lap. Mind you, like 15 minutes earlier, I felt like my head was going to fall off in Turn 1. Am I even going to be able to push on new tyres and do all this anyway? But I just had that feeling in the car and that confidence. Of course, I was a little rusty to start, but there was elements of the car that felt so familiar that I knew, with a new set of tyres and taking a bit of fuel out of it, what it could do and what it was capable of.

    I'm not going to say it was easy or effortless, but I had a lot of confidence that it could do what I thought it could. Crossing the line, when I looked at the time, I was like, ‘oh, I don't know if I was expecting to go that quick.’ I knew the day had potential to be a really good day, but I'd be lying if I said I was going to do that time on my first lap with new tyres. It gave me a very big smile.

    Christian was really good because, even coming into the day, he just said, ‘obviously we're going to be looking at you and seeing how you perform, but I just want to see you having fun again. I really felt like you were missing that. We all know what you can do when you're enjoying it and just at your best. I just want to see that smile on your face.’ And he certainly saw that.

    READ MORE: Ricciardo makes Red Bull return at Silverstone test

    TC: When had you last enjoyed driving a Formula 1 car that much?

    DR: It had been a while. Look, don't get me wrong, I definitely had times in 2022 where I was enjoying it and having fun. It was just few and far between. Even if I'd come into a race weekend with my optimism and excitement, it would quickly get pulled away with just the performance, or the struggle, or whatever. It would be short lived. When I crossed the line, saw that lap time, I had that kind of relief again that I’ve still got this. It had been a long time.

    TC: Can we just praise the car for a little bit? The RB19, the machine that has completely dominated the 2023 season, what is so darn good about it?

    DR: What made the test go really well for me is that, yes, the cars have evolved and changed so much, but there was part of its DNA, which was still what I remembered and still what I really liked in a race car. The part I love most about the Red Bull car is that I can just drive it the way I want to drive it. It doesn't really explain what's great about the car, but it explains why I love it.

    I just remember getting on the throttle. Once I'd got to like 50% throttle, I had so much faith in just smashing that last 50% and not having to really worry about the car or where it was. A fast car is not always the easiest car to drive. As beautiful and awesome as the car is, you've still got to drive it. I look at the season Max had and he's also won races in mixed conditions, in the wet, and the car is amazing, but it’s not doing it for you.

    He's obviously at one with it. But yeah I just loved it. I had fun and it was just good to do it again. I didn't expect the call to be for the week later in Budapest. I thought it would be after the summer break, but once they said it and obviously how I felt after the test, I was like, ‘man, I'm ready. Let’s do it.’

    TC: Did you feel sorry for Nyck De Vries?

    DR: Yes, because I'd been through it less than a year earlier. I understood it, you know, but it's all very subjective. Did he have enough time? Maybe not. Were his results good enough? Maybe not. But maybe it's just what I've been through, and I’m in my mid-thirties now, we've all put so much into this and I know Nyck has put so much into his career.

    Obviously, he finally got a chance and it didn't work out. Six months earlier, he's probably the most excited he's ever been to start a race season. Six months later, he doesn't have a race season. So I feel for him and anyone in that position, because your dream can start and ultimately kind of finish or be derailed in a short amount of time.

    TC: DR, you had your work cut out because you go to Hungary with no testing in the AlphaTauri. You're up against Yuki Tsunoda, who's been in the car for half a season. How important was it for you to out-qualify Yuki in that first weekend?

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 20: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia AlphaTauri has a seat
    Getting back in the hot seat at Budapest

    DR: Coming into the weekend, I was excited. Of course, I was a little bit confident, but I was also realistic that I'd never driven the car. Who knows if it's going to be a car that is good for me or not? Most cars I'd been all right with, other than the McLaren. Nothing’s guaranteed so, coming into the weekend, I just wanted to do an awesome job, but I knew that it's probably not going to happen on the first weekend. There's going to be a process.

    Also, my engineer, Pierre Hamelin, I hadn’t worked with him before, so there's just a lot of things where you can't expect the world ultimately. I did FP1. Already on the out-lap, I felt like I’d driven this car before. Even at this level and even as experienced as I am, sometimes it can feel very foreign. Not driving for eight, nine months, jumping in the Red Bull car, the speed felt foreign, the G-force felt foreign, it takes you a few laps to find your feet.

    I remember the out-lap, I started feeling like I wasn't too dusty. That was my first impression. Then it started raining for a while. As the weekend went on, Yuki was a few tenths quicker and I was just trying to find a little bit. Then in qualifying, I just stepped it up and found a little bit here and there. It was close, but I out-qualified him and that was really nice because he'd also had a really strong season up until that point and definitely made life difficult for Nyck.

    For me to be on it straightaway, I guess it confirmed a lot of the good feelings I had from the test and with the team as well. I think they were really excited for my arrival but then they need to be excited about my results. I did feel a little bit of pressure with my experience, and I knew that the team would maybe lean on me.

    I think that's one thing I've been really happy with is my feedback, and I always want to be better at it. I felt like within a few races, I was able to push them and ask a lot of questions: ‘why have we set the car up like this? Is that what Yuki and Nyck liked in a car? I think we can maybe go down this direction.’ I felt straight away they were really receptive of my feedback and it made me feel really comfortable and welcome in the team. I was just being listened to from the get-go. They made me feel at home really quickly.

    ANALYSIS: How Ricciardo got a second chance with stunning AlphaTauri return

    TC: The car improved massively from Austin onwards. What was that down to?

    DR: We had updates in Singapore, which I was on the sidelines for. That was a significant update for the team and Liam [Lawson] scored points in Singapore. Yuki was quick in Q1 so there was definitely signs of the car being improved. Then in Austin, there were a few more updates. Yuki had a good weekend. I didn't. But then we went on to Mexico and we actually went to some setup stuff that we ran in FP2 in Zandvoort, which I did a few laps at and then had the crash.

    For those few laps we did, I was really happy with the car and I remember at the time on the hard tyre, we were actually quite competitive before the accident. It was definitely a bit of a different direction in terms of setup, but it was something that I felt would help me, the car, my driving style, all of it. Then we didn't do it because I was on the sidelines and Austin was a sprint race, so we didn't really want to put in something that no one had really raced yet. We kind of just ran a normal setup. Then in Mexico, we were able to put the Zandvoort setup back in.

    TC: You qualify fourth and I think you’re only a tenth behind Max Verstappen in the RB19!

    DR: Yeah, it was wild. I think we actually had a look, if you take out the first straight, from that point on we were like identical lap times or something. That was really cool. It wasn't really until probably the Tuesday after the race that the fourth-place qualifying sunk in.

    At the time, I was obviously very happy and whatever, but I probably didn't fully appreciate what qualifying fourth in an AlphaTauri meant. I think it was the Tuesday where I was far enough removed from the weekend, I just looked back on it and was just proud of my performance. It just brought back a lot of internal happiness and confidence.

    TC: Now, you mentioned the elephant in the room… Zandvoort, FP2, turn three. What happened?

    DR: You come through Turn 2 and it's over a crest. You stay quite tight because the line for 3, you ride the top of the banking, so you're not taking a conventional racing line. You're not looking at the apex, you're looking at the top of the corner. As a driver, we're always looking ahead and normally at the apex. But the way you exit 2, you then look straight ahead and pick your braking point. At that point I'd exited 2, I hadn't seen any yellows, nothing like that.

    By the time I've looked ahead and braked, I've then looked where I need to turn and I see Oscar. This all happened so quickly. The line we take is high, and by this point I'd braked, so I'd already committed. I knew the speed I was going. My only choice was to take the high line, but I could see his car was at the top of the track, so there wasn't enough room for me to pass through the high line. I'm going too fast to take a low line, so it was either probably look like a real idiot and crash into him, or just try to slow the car as much as I can and likely just crash into the barriers, which is what happened.

    By the time I'd committed to just going straight, I hadn’t realised, ‘take your hands off the wheel.’ A lot of us still don't do it because crashing is not natural, and it happens so quickly because you don't plan to crash. You don't have the time to be like, ‘okay, I'm crashing. What do I need to do? Brace myself. Okay, take my hands off the wheel.’ Sometimes you just don't have the luxury of time. That was it. I hit the wall.

    Basically, when I've gone in, I'm pretty sure the right front would have grabbed the Tecpro first and that’s pulled it in. It’s like I’ve turned a really hard right, the way it's grabbed the wheel. Because the wheels then turn so quickly, I've basically lost grip. It's spun out of my hands and the bottom of the wheel, which is pure hard carbon, has then come up and basically karate chopped my hand. Then you've got the shock of a crash and adrenaline. I could feel my hand. The pain ramped up and really quickly I feared something was bad.

    As I'm pulling my glove off, I remember thinking, ‘if there's a bone through the skin, I'm going to pass out. Please, please don't let me see anything gruesome.’ I’m not good with this stuff, I’m sweating telling it. I pulled my glove off and I could see it was already quite swollen, but no bone through the skin. Then the pain just got so bad. As soon as I jumped into the medical car, I was making a lot of noises because I was in a lot of discomfort.

    I knew that it was not good. I knew immediately I wasn't going to race on the weekend. I didn't need a doctor to tell me. I feared it was a broken bone. I think the first thing that really made me sad was that I’d just had a very, very productive summer break. I felt really, really good physically, and I was just ready to go. This just felt like an unfortunate setback. I was more worried about surgery and all that because I'm a bit of a wuss.

    2023 Dutch GP FP2: Bizarre moment as both Piastri and Ricciardo end up in the wall at Turn 3
    2023 Dutch GP FP2: Bizarre moment as both Piastri and Ricciardo end up in the wall at Turn 3

    TC: What happens next? You went down to Barcelona to Dr. Xavier Mir, who is renowned in the MotoGP world for mending those sorts of breaks. I also think he helped Lance stroll earlier in the year as well. Who put you in touch with him or did you know him already?

    DR: From the medical centre, we went to the hospital there in Amsterdam, got scans, and they're like, ‘yeah, it's broken.’ By this point, it looks like an elephant stepped on my hand. The doctor there said, ‘look, I would recommend surgery. You can have it here, but you probably want to wait a few days for the swelling to go down, speak to whoever you need to speak to, and obviously you can have your surgery wherever you want.’

    Then we reached out to Lance. We reached out to Jose, a friend of ours who works with Alpine stars, so he knows all the MotoGP guys, and he's Spanish as well. He put us in touch with Xavier Mir. Lance was like, ‘go to him as well.’ It was a blessing and a curse because he does a lot of MotoGP guys, who are not human. They are not. It’s fact. I think there's an expectation of me going in there. He's like, ‘oh, F1, MotoGP, they’re the same - not human, don't feel pain.’ No doctor, I feel pain. I'm going to cry for the next 48 hours in this hospital. It was just funny.

    I think all the doctors and nurses who were helping me were great, but they would laugh a lot because I would wince and pull away and ask questions about every needle that went into my arm. I think they just thought I would be tough like a MotoGP rider. But I’m not. The break itself was quite significant and it was a shatter. It was in eight pieces. For a bone that can be quite a simple one, it wasn't too pretty. It's like the outside of the hand. The bone I broke was in between the wrist and the pinky, like that knuckle.

    Even just rubbing my finger over the top of my hand hurt like crazy. Maybe I just feel pain more than others. I don't know. There was also the reality where, yes, I would moan and complain because I don't like the pain, but it was a broken hand. There was also part of me which was like, 'yes, you're in pain and it's going to be a bit of a process, but people have worse injuries. People have bigger accidents’. Don't get me wrong, I also tried to reality check myself through it all. I think that's what made me remain quite positive.

    TC: You missed five races. You came back for Austin. Was there any talk of you getting back earlier, maybe for Qatar?

    DR: I was doing physio every day and I was doing what I could to come back as soon as possible. But Red Bull and AlphaTauri were really good with this, as I wasn't fighting for a world championship. It's not like you need to just drive through immense pain and just get a point, because your title is on the line. It was, ‘let's make sure you heal properly and get the right treatment, because also you've got hopefully a second part of your career, which is going to be long and glorious. Don't compromise anything that you then have a bung hand for the next two years of your career, three years, whatever.’

    Qatar was talked about. I went on the sim the week of Qatar on the Monday, but I couldn't yet drive with the full force of the steering. I just couldn't grip it and do more than two laps at full strength. It was very clear that Qatar was out of the question, and also for me to come back and not drive at my best, no one benefits. At that point, we were just like, ‘let’s go all in for Austin and make sure I’m good for that.’

    ANALYSIS: Why AlphaTauri have opted for experience with 2024 line-up

    TC: And Liam was doing a decent job as well…

    DR: He was doing well. Also, I think Red Bull were great to give me a contract whilst I was injured. There’s so much about being back in the Red Bull family that’s felt good and right. That was such a big thing for them to do that. I think obviously it showed they have a lot of faith in me.

    It also put to bed, if anyone’s like, ‘is there still any issues from the previous relationship years ago? Is there any carryover tension or whatever?’ For them to do that, I think it was very much like, ‘he’s our kid and we're going to support him because we believe in him.’ That was really nice.

    TC: You come back for Austin and were there any ill effects there?

    DR: In short, no. I think the race I got into quickly and I was actually expecting more pain in Austin. I was expecting every kind of bump I hit, but it was okay. I think it was just then endurance I needed to build.

    Towards the end of the race, I could feel like my grip strength was maybe not as good as at the start of the race, but honestly I was fine. I didn't want to get back into a race and then be like, ‘yeah, I could have done better but my hand was not up to full strength.’ This can't be an excuse and it wasn't, so it was all good.

    TC: Well, DR, it's been wonderful to catch up. I did just want to end by talking about 2024. Are you looking forward to what next year has in store?

    DR: Yeah, it's probably the first off-season that I'll want to not go too long in terms of, I just want to keep racing. I think now that I'm back in it, I missed some time with the hand and I missed the first half of the season, I feel like I want to just get going. I'm excited for next year. I think it's really going to be a change.

    I think the whole mentality of the team, it’s no longer just a junior team. I think it's definitely going to be more than that. I think I’ll get a lot more involved with Red Bull, obviously as much as I can within the rules. I think there's a lot more potential that a team like this can have and show.

    I think even the last part of the season, we were 10th in the championship, fighting for seventh, it turned around really quickly. I think the team can also recognise that we can be more than probably what we've shown. I think that's really exciting and I'm excited for what lies ahead. I’m hungry, motivated, happy, determined, everything I need to feel, so I can't wait.

    TC: What's the end game here, DR? Is it the Red Bull Racing seat for ’25?

    DR: I'm not even going to put a day, or date on it, or year, whatever. I think coming back into it and jumping back in with the Red Bull family, doing the test in July, all these things, working with Simon again, that's really the dream. Honestly, to end my career as a Red Bull driver would be perfect. Not that I'm looking at the end, but if I go back there, then I'll certainly make sure I finish there.

    TC: Good luck and thanks for your time!

    DR: Cheers buddy!

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