In this exclusive interview, Ricciardo discusses his chances for Sunday’s Grand Prix, but first he talks about doing what many thought was impossible - outperforming quadruple world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel…
Q: Daniel, before the season there were suggestions from some quarters that you might drown alongside four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. However, right now you appear to be Red Bull’s redeemer after a difficult start to the season. Are you surprised by how it has gone so far?
Daniel Ricciardo: Drown - wow! But everybody can see that I’m swimming! (laughs) Ha, I never expected that I would drown. I knew that it was going to be a big challenge - but I was ready for it. So of course I am pleased with how it’s going - and now I just have to continue. Sure, the start I’ve had has been nice - really nice!
Q: In some ways you’ve disenchanted a four-time champion. Had this year started as last year finished - with Sebastian winning and winning - your career might have taken another turn. As it is, you appear to have demonstrated that you’re on a par with him…
DR: For my confidence it was of course good to see that I’m on the same level as Seb - that was pretty good for me. But it’s not only Seb - it is the whole rest of the field. To be in the top three in qualifying at most of the races - and to fight up there on the front - that’s pretty cool. Of course I plan to keep the situation as it is now, but that will be quite hard work.
Q: You joined Red Bull as something of a hopeful - now you have the attention of everybody, not only in the team, but also in the paddock…
DR: If I get the attention because of my results, super. Probably yes, some people didn’t expect this from me, but I knew deep down that I could do well. So I am not too surprised! (laughs)
Q: Do you have a logical explanation for why you are getting more from the car at the moment than Sebastian is?
DR: I don’t think our cars are hugely different - I think that F1 is completely different this year. The car is pretty difficult to get used to - and maybe I have adapted to the new conditions a bit quicker than Seb did. Seb had a car at the end of last year he was very comfortable with, so it might have taken him a little by surprise to have a more complex car this year - maybe. But I don’t really know. I don’t look into it too much. If I am beating him I am happy. He had a good race in Barcelona so I am sure he is back onto his game now.
Q: How are the vibes in the team? It is a rather unusual situation for Red Bull to have Vettel on the ropes a little bit and the new boy on a roll…
DR: It is creating a nice balance. Particularly in pre-season, Seb was doing lot of the talking within the team and a lot of the feedback because he knew everyone and they trusted him. But now that I have some results and I’ve got to know the team a lot better, they are now leaning on both of us for feedback in trying to make the car better. It is good for the team that I am getting these results because they have a second opinion.
Q: Can you talk us through the first five races?
DR: It’s just how I pictured my season - I’ve got exactly what I wanted. I think I came here well prepared. I knew that I wasn’t going to get blown away. I knew that I was coming in having a fast car, and I knew that I could drive it well and that the results would come - and that’s exactly how it has happened. The more your results improve, the more confidence and belief you get. Now that I have been on the podium it starts to feel normal now - the next step is going to the top.
Q: How important was that Melbourne podium in your first race for Red Bull? Was that a crucial moment, even if you later got stripped of the result?
DR: Yes, it was a crucial moment. I knew that with all the attention in Australia and all of the publicity - questions like ‘Will he be as quick as Seb?’, ‘Will he be able to challenge him?’ and ‘Is he intimidated?’ - I knew that the best thing would be just to come out and, bang! And that’s what happened. It was also good for the team, as they have believed in me, to show them that this trust was well-founded - that what they’ve believed about me was real. And it was perfect that it happened right at the first race.
Q: There was a huge cheer for the local boy on the podium, but if you could have chosen, would you rather things had gone the other way around - that you didn’t get to go on the podium but later inherited third place and 15 points?
DR: Nothing can beat that podium, so I would always go for how it actually went. It did so much for my confidence seeing all those people cheering and shouting my name. And it actually made me even hungrier with how it went because it got taken away from me.
Q: Did you really say ‘it’s good to see that Seb now has to work for his money’ as was reported? That doesn’t sound like you…
DR: Did I say that? I can’t remember. Maybe I said ‘make him work for his money’ - meaning giving him a good push. That’s very likely what I meant - not literally ‘for his money’ but that it is nice that I am pushing him. That’s what I want. And if I am able to push a four-time world champion then I know that I am doing something right.
Q: Monaco is the special race on the calendar, but it hasn’t been a lucky place for you. Have there been any indications today that it will be different this year?
DR: Ah, the track is amazing. It is exciting even though it is true that in my F1 days it hasn’t been the luckiest place for me. I still haven’t seen a chequered flag here in an F1 car and today was not the perfect kick-off into a demanding weekend - especially not in the afternoon. Okay, the morning went pretty well, and gave us some good information on how the set-up should be on Sunday, but in the afternoon we missed some valuable running due to the conditions. But believe me, I will do everything to see the flag this time, as I don’t believe that there is a curse. (laughs) And if we ever are going to challenge Mercedes then I would say this is the place. Horsepower is less important here so it should at least bring the power units a bit closer. We do have a lot more downforce for this circuit - and of course the driver can always get an extra tenth or two here. I tell myself, ‘Boy, be focused - this track doesn’t allow any mistakes’. But I feel that I am in that right frame of mind to get a top result.
Q: So what ‘top result’ do you have in mind? What will you dream about on Saturday night?
DR: That I jump into the harbour with the biggest trophy they have here. Here they only remember the winner, so it’s winning at all costs.
Q: So we can take your word that we will see a dive from you if you win?