Q: Daniel, what was first thing on your mind when you heard that Sebastian is leaving and you will be ‘top dog’ at Red Bull next season?
Daniel Ricciardo: I wasn’t really surprised. A couple of months ago I wouldn’t have expected it, but the longer it dragged on the more I thought that he was going to leave. I wasn’t too surprised when the news broke.
Q: When you say that you kind of expected it, what indications where there?
DR: Well, the weekend in Japan - there was a little bit more tension - not with Seb, but around (in general). I could sense that something was coming up, that something would happen. A few more important people all together at once - that made me think that something was going to happen.
Q: So what has happened will essentially make you number one at Red Bull - after only one year at the team…
DR: …on paper yes, but I have to prove it again on track. Obviously I have gained a bit more experience this year and Daniil (Kvyat) is coming into a new team, but I shouldn’t take anything for granted. True, people are expecting me to be the top guy in the team, but I still want to prove that on the track and finish in front of my new team mate.
Q: 2014 must have played out better than your wildest dreams: three race wins and Red Bull’s only iron in the fire for the championship. Has it been good for your ego?
DR: It is okay. I won’t get too much of a big head! (laughs) It is more just for confidence. In that respect, this season has done a lot for me: the team has a lot of belief in me and in what I can do and that is strengthening our relationship. Yes, this year has exceeded all my expectations - it’s been really nice. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
Q: The closer it gets to the season finale in Abu Dhabi and double points, how much are the 18 points that you lost with that disqualification in Australia hurting? Mathematically you are still in contention for the title…
DR: Let’s see. When at the end of the season I lose by 18 points, of course I would be disappointed. But let’s be realistic: we’re still a bit far off. Of course I’m trying to close the gap as much as I can and if we go to Abu Dhabi just 50 points shy - with a mathematical chance (of winning the title) - that wouldn’t be bad at all.
Q: Being Red Bull’s only hope for the drivers’ championship, will that change anything in the team’s pecking order?
DR: It might. For this I need to speak to Christian (Horner, Red Bull team principal) and a few of the guys about it, as it was said from the very beginning that until one of the drivers is mathematically out of it we will keep racing - but now Seb is out of it. I also said from the beginning that I hope not to rely on his help - and I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I’d love to be in front and not need help. But if I do, maybe this is a possibility.
Q: And should you need help, you know that you can rely on his support?
DR: Yes. If we are going to apply some team orders I definitely would give him the benefit of the doubt that he would look after me.
Q: Your new team mate will be Daniil Kvyat, a driver with only one year of F1 experience. Would you have been ready after such a short stint in F1 racing to move to Red Bull Racing and all the expectations that go with it?
DR: It’s definitely a big challenge. It’s tough. I definitely feel that I was more prepared this year because I had two and a half years (experience) - so that is natural - but if Red Bull came to me after my first year and said, ‘Here you go,’ I definitely would have said, ‘Of course I’m ready!’
Q: But would that ‘ready’ have been wishful thinking or being really ready?
DR: It depends what you call ready: to deal with the pressure, yes. Ready for top results - maybe that would have taken a few more races. But such a call is an opportunity you can’t give up.
Q: When you look back at this season, what’s been your proudest moment?
DR: Hard to say, but it’s also hard to deny Canada. The first win is the first win - that’s the one! (laughs)
Q: What’s been your most difficult race?
DR: The one that affected me the most was Malaysia. We just came off the disappointment of Melbourne and being in fourth position and hoping to get some good points and then facing serious problems at the last pit stop and finishing again without any points - that was pretty tough. Two races where I thought that I should have got good points and I left with zero - that was not great.
Q: But from then on the curve has been running pretty nicely north. Would you have ever predicted that?
DR: Yep, it went up pretty quickly. Probably I didn’t expect the speed - I thought it would take a bit more time.
Q: On your side of the Red Bull garage things have generally gone much more smoothly than on Seb’s side. Did the extent of the struggle on the other side surprise you?
DR: A little bit, yes. But at the same time I don’t read too much into it. Sometimes there is not always an explanation for it except bad luck. The whole team is fantastic, so I wouldn’t say that my guys are better than his guys - they all work as one team.
Q: You are known for always having a smile on your face and for your unshakeable good spirit. Will that continue in 2015 when all the pressure is on you?
DR: The smile will always be there! (laughs) I enjoy what I do - and I am grateful for what I do, particularly after the events at Suzuka. You can’t take anything for granted here.
Q: Sochi is unknown territory: how did you prepare?
DR: I did a bit of simulator work - that was it. The thing I get most out of when learning a new circuit is looking with my own eyes, so I did a few laps with the bike. That’s about it.
Q: …and from what you’ve seen today, could it be a ‘Red Bull track’ that will keep you in the running for the title?
DR: The straights are very long. It is not jumping out at me saying that we will be fast. If I look at it and had to say who will be fast then I would say Mercedes and Williams. I think we made a good call in Spa to take a lot of downforce off and I have the feeling that we might have to do the same thing here. We will try a lot of things on Friday and hopefully by Saturday have the best set-up for qualifying.
Q: That sounds like you expect to be the third team on the grid…
DR: I think Ferrari will be there as well. We will need a smooth car on the straights!
Q: What would give you an even bigger smile on Sunday?
DR: A podium. Mercedes seems invincible, but if we could be the next best, then, yes, that would really please me.