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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 author
Daniel Ricciardo went through exactly what might be described as a very long, dark night of the spirit.
After the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver went back into his hotel and asked whether it was worth it. The answer did not come easily, however the Australian hurried Spa on Sunday.
Four days , he sits down with BBC Sport in the beginning of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, also delves deep into what it takes to get a racing driver to confront his fears and race in these difficult circumstances.
“I definitely challenged it,” that the 30-year-old Australian says. “The simple truth is, weirdly, I really do love it too much. Racing did feel right in the conclusion. Despite the fact that I didn’t really need to, once I did this, it was just like, OK, this actually feels normal and right.”
For a very long time over last weekend it felt anything but ordinary.
“When you’re a child and you see it on TV, and you are not current or not part of it,” Ricciardo says,”it seems like there’s some kind of distance, or a disconnection to what has happened.
“But if you are there and it occurs to a few of your colleagues, also it is in the same race, it sounds more real, and it’s like:’OK, that actually can happen to anyone, and it’s here, it’s current right now.’
“The realisation of us not being invincible does put in. I understand my parents worry enough for me already – you know, now being on a plane every few days and watching me race and traveling the entire world. You just question itis it really worth putting not only myself but household under the identical quantity of stress?”
At night of the collision, Ricciardo states, he”did not get much sleep, and so you are asking your questions, likely just fighting just a tiny piece with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you know?
“And then also fighting a few of the emotions of if I get up and race tomorrow? Could it be the ideal thing to do morally? Can it be the perfect thing?
“And I kind of did think:’Let us see how I’m feeling by lunchtime, and when I’m still having any doubts then maybe the most powerful thing for me is not to race.’
“I kind of wanted to play it by ear. Just running through all these scenarios:’What should I really feel? What if that?’
“By Sunday morningI had a little more clarity. I did manage to sleep just a little bit and wake up preparing myself. However, it felt weird and cold. It did not feel right to be excited to race to be delighted to be there. It felt tick off the minutes and find the work finished.
“The lead-up to the race, so I’d probably just describe it as not quite fun in conditions of just it was tough to try and go through the moves and undergo a regular when that’s happened less than 24 hours ago. Plus, you know, motorists’ parade and all that, you’re turning to fans, but you do not feel right smiling or being happy, I guess.
“It was difficult, just hoping to enter the zone, simply trying to find any form of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday was not effortless, but it was more of a sadness than a panic and I think it was important I found that. If I was getting in the car with a pure level of fear, then it wouldn’t have been clever for me . I did know that it was a despair.”
“After we sort of got moving, it really felt like pretty great launch. It felt like a de-stress, simply competing and racing. Only going at those rates, it had been that felt good and like flushing the machine.
“After the racefor certain I was glad that it was done but I did feel much better than I did two hours before that.
“I’ll be frank, the race has been fun. It was great to be out there. As far as I was looking forward to viewing the flag, I’d like a race on Sunday.”
The race acted as a kind of catharsis.
“If something happens, you have just go to dip into it, and that is the very best method of overcoming it. And I believe that is what the race was for us. I told myself things’Just go whenever possible. Leave on the pits and go, and attempt to get into that mode. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t over-think certain places.’
“I recall I got from the pitsdrifted out, and forced myself to get into that mindset straight away.”
That can be a reference to his ideas about going throughout Raidillon. It’s part of the Eau Rouge swerves, also a left-hander over the brow of a mountain taken flat out at more than 180mph.
“I told myself:’Go whole throttle, and just don’t over-think this corner, so don’t over-think it.’ Out of the pits… held it full. It felt good to get out there and do that although that was a relief. And that told me that I was ready to go.
“I believe if I had been, big lift and fearful, then that could be a sign that maybe I should not be on the track right now. I guess I needed to do that to test myself and then it felt right.”
Did he talk to the other drivers about it?
“I must speak to some few. I only met Anthoine this past season. The Renault Academy boys spent a lot of time and that I saw them. I spoke to a couple of them Saturday night as well text.
“They’d completed training camps collectively. They are a small family. They’re younger too. That’s where I believed I could try and be a little bit of, in some ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. They had been, although I had been feeling it. We gave each other all a kiss on Sunday morning. We attempted to talk over it a tiny bit.
“And with all the other motorists, I spoke to some of these, but before the race you can see everyone kind of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting for the motorist parade, we were just standing there. There really are some handshakes or hugs but you could sort of tell everybody was just trying to get ready for the race and it was a demanding one. After the raceI talked to mostly the French drivers, who I understood were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not. The F1 driver was that the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in a crash. Ricciardo had come up through the rankings and they were close pals.
“Jules’ [departure ] struck me quite difficult,” Ricciardo says. “In a way, not disrespecting it, I was quite amazed how difficult it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit me so hard and for this to survive so long – the despair and the hurt from that extended over some period.
“With last weekend, you think time kind of remedies everything, and it was like, OK, nothing has happened for a while and with great reason. The sport’s got safer and we are in a good location. And then it happens. And it’s a shock.
“It’s an anger that it’s occurred again. We thought we had moved on from all this. It is when it is refreshed in your head again and it is there in front of you, it’s hard not to think about it with trouble.”
Has it changed his outlook ?
“Originally, it did change. Time does cure it. Those extreme first emotions did slowly fizzle out.
“With the Jules one, I felt as though my purpose and intent then was,’OK, when we’re likely to strap ourselves into these cars, and if we are all aware of the risk, it doesn’t make sense to move in half-heartedly. Go all in, if we’re going to do it, and make it rewarding.’
“I felt like Jules’ passing form of made me embrace the racer even more so. And to be honest this will wind up having the same effect.
“I didn’t have that sort of fear from the race. And before that fear measures, I’ll just use it. However many years I do it, I can say that I did it correctly.”
It can be hard to understand how a racing driver can compartmentalise their anxieties this way, or so the uniqueness of the kind of character necessary to perform a job they know might kill them, but to go ahead and do it anyhow because they appreciate it so much they can not stop.
Can Ricciardo clarify what exactly makes F1 drivers ready to live with this contradiction?
He pauses for a few seconds.
“Actually I get goosebumps,” he says,”because I do not really understand how or why.
“On Saturday nightI felt no place to drive a race car around the same track the following day. But getting out of the pits and going through Raidillon and all that, it was bizarre how natural and normal that it felt. And I can’t explain that.
“It’s probably just once you have a deep fascination and love to get something, that’s the outcome. I amazed myself to be honest. And we all did on Sunday.
“I did not expect to like any part of the race, so regardless of where I ended. However, I really did enjoy being out there, and that rush of racing. Yes, it was in mind, obviously. But how we’re ready to place it I can not explain why or how. It will surprise me.”
Ricciardo is known for his gung-ho style, along with his attacking successes, frequently made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves in which he throws the car down the inside of an opponent from an impossible distance back. How does he rationalise the dangers, on knowing that an injury is always a chance, carry?
“You’ve got to at all times control the controllables,” he says. “In my own case, I guess never find reckless.
“Following the race at times you will find me give a driver the finger show my sort of anger. However, I tried to educate myself to not allow the emotion take more than the driver at the race and become reckless, basically.
“Yes, I have tried some late overtakes in my own time and I have done some moves that might seem risky, but there is always a level of control and calculation in that and it has never done purely on emotion.
“So I will never let myself get irresponsible or place myself in a place I don’t have to be in. Yes, I want to take risks and be on that line that is fine. But be sensible enough not to over-step it and also I believe I’m able to do that.
“From this perspective, I’m comfy hopping in the vehicle. There is always the thing of technical things and failures that could go wrong. That is an uncontrollable out of my side. Can’t really consider those. And in the event you know they’re current times and there, as soon as you place the helmet on and get going, you don’t think about doing it.
“It is one of those things that if it occurs in the incorrect place or the wrong corner, then what exactly can you? You have got to place that motive in your head that it could have occurred on the way into the circuit, so it could have happened on the street.”
It is rare for racing drivers to talk about threat and the risk of death so openly.
Security is discussed every weekend in F1, but it within an abstract level – everything can people do about this particular gravel trap, or this obstruction?
Hubert’s death has brought it front and center. Is it hard is it to talk about it?
“Of course it is tough to address something that is genuine and has occurred,” Ricciardo states,”however, it will help to talk about it. Possessing the comfort of everybody else last weekend and being around the grid and speaking to some of the other motorists… yeah, it’s not fun talking about it, but in addition, it helps alleviate any feelings or emotions.
“I guess just knowing that you are in precisely the identical boat with someone else, realizing that you’re not lonely feeling the way you do, which helps.
“So being part of a group or a community. This was in which you realise, there are rivalries or whatever, but a competition on course doesn’t say how much we all have in common and how much we really do really care and feel for each other.
“It’s hard but it does feel nice to get a portion of it off your chest”
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