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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer
Daniel Ricciardo went through which might be described as a long, dark night of the soul.
After the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver moved back to his hotel and asked whether it was worth it. The response didn’t come easily, however on Sunday the Australian raced in the end.
Four days on, he sits with BBC Sport in the onset of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, and delve deep into what it requires for a racing driver to face his fears and race in such difficult conditions.
“I certainly questioned it,” the 30-year-old Australian says. “The reality is, I really do love it a lot. Racing did feel in the conclusion. Even though I did not really wish to, once I did this, it was just like, OK, this actually feels right and normal.”
For quite a very long time over a weekend, even though, it felt anything but ordinary.
“When you are a child and you watch it on TV, and you are not present or not a part of it,” Ricciardo states,”it seems like there is some kind of space, or a disconnection to what has happened.
“But if you are there and it happens to a few of your colleagues, or it is in exactly the exact identical race, it seems more real, and it is like:’OK, this actually can happen to anyone, and it’s here, it is present today.’
“The realisation of us not being invincible does set in. I know my parents stress enough for me – you know, seeing me race and traveling the world every couple of days, and now being on a plane. You just question it: is it really worth putting not just myself but family under precisely the identical amount of pressure?”
At night of the crash, Ricciardo says, he”did not get much sleep, and for sure you’re asking your questions, likely just fighting a little bit with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you know?
“And also fighting with a few of the emotions of if I get up and race tomorrow? Could it be the right thing to do morally? Can it be the perfect thing?
“And I sort of did think:’Let us see how I feel by lunchtime, and if I’m still having some doubts then maybe the safest thing for me is to not race.’
“I sort of wanted to play it by ear. Working through all these scenarios:’What if I feel like this? Imagine if that?’
“By Sunday morning, I had a bit more clarity. I did manage to sleep just a bit and wake up preparing myself for race day. However, it felt cold and bizarre. It did not feel right to be excited to race to be happy to be there. It felt like, tick off the moments and get the job done.
“The lead-up to the race, so I would probably just describe it as not really fun in conditions of just it had been tough to try and go through the motions and go through a routine when that’s happened less than 24 hours ago. Plus, you know, drivers’ parade and that, you’re waving to fans, but you do not feel being happy or grinning, I guess.
“It was hard, just trying to get into the zone, only trying to come across any form of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday was not effortless, but it had been more of a sadness than a fear and I think it was significant I established that. If I was getting in the vehicle with a pure level of dread, then it would not have been clever for me . I did understand that it was just a sadness.”
“Once we kind of got moving, it actually felt like fairly great launch. It felt like a de-stress, only racing and competing. It was just like flushing out the machine and that felt great just going at those rates.
“Following the race, for sure I was glad that it was done but I’d feel much better than I did 2 hours before that.
“I will be honest, the race was fun. It was good to be out there. And as far as I was excited about viewing the flag, I did like a pure race Sunday.”
The race acted as a form of catharsis.
“When something happens, you have simply go to dip back into it, and that is the ideal method of overcoming it. And I believe that’s exactly what the race has been for us. I informed myself little things too:’Just go fast as soon as possible. Leave on the pits and just go, and try to get into that mode. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t over-think certain areas on the track.’
“I recall I got out of those pitsdrifted out, and compelled me to put into that mindset straight away.”
This is really a reference to his ideas about moving through Raidillon. It’s part of the notorious Eau Rouge swerves, also a left-hander over the brow of a mountain taken out at over 180mph.
“I told myself’Go complete throttle, and simply don’t over-think this corner, do not over-think any of it.’ From these pits… maintained it full. This really was a relief but it felt great to get out there and do that. And that also told me that I was prepared to go.
“I believe if I was, large lift and fearful, then that could be a sign that maybe I shouldn’t be on the track at this time. I suppose I needed to do this to test myself and it all felt right.”
Can he talk to the other motorists about it?
“I got to speak to a few. This past season I just met Anthoine. The Renault Academy boys clearly spent a lot of time with him and I watched them Sunday morning. I talked to a couple of these Saturday night as well, just text.
“They’d completed training camps collectively. They’re a tiny household. They are younger as well. That is where I believed I could try and be a tiny bit of, even in some ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. They were so, although I had been feeling it. We gave each other all a kiss on Sunday morning. We tried to chat over it a bit.
“And with the other drivers, I talked to a few of them, but until the race you can see everyone kind of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to get the motorist parade, we were just standing there. There really are some handshakes or hugs however you could kind of tell everybody was just attempting to prepare for the race and it turned out to be a difficult one. Following the race, I talked to mainly the French motorists, who I knew were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not. The F1 driver to reduce his lifetime was that the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in a crash at the 2014 Western Grand Prix. Ricciardo’d come up through the ranks Bianchi and they had been close friends.
“Jules’ [passing ] hit me very difficult,” Ricciardo states. “In a way, maybe not disrespecting it, I was quite surprised how hard it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit on me so hard and for this to survive – the hurt and the sadness from this extended over some period.
“With past weekend, you think time type of cures everything, and it was just like, OK, nothing’s happened for a while and with great reason. The game’s got safer and we are at a location that was good. And then it occurs. And it’s a jolt.
“It’s an anger that it’s occurred again. We thought we’d moved on from all this. It’s when it’s refreshed on your head again and it is there in front of you, it is difficult not to think about it with difficulty.”
Has it altered his perspective ?
“Initially, it did shift. It does be cured by time. Those emotions that are initial that are extreme did fizzle out.
“With the Jules one, I felt like my goal and intent after that has been,’OK, if we are going to strap ourselves into these cars, and if we’re all conscious of the risk, it does not make sense to go in half-heartedly. Go all in if we are going to do it, and make it worthwhile.’
“I felt like Jules’ passing form of made me adopt the racer even more so. And to be fair this will end up having the exact same effect.
“I did not have that sort of fear from the race. And before that fear steps in, I use it as a form of inspiration. However many years I really do it, I can say I did it correctly.”
It can be hard to comprehend the way the racing motorist can compartmentalise their anxieties this manner, or so even 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 that they can not stop.
Can Ricciardo explain what causes F1 drivers capable to survive with that contradiction?
He pauses for a few seconds.
“Actually I get goosebumps,” he says,”since I do not really understand why or how.
“On Saturday night, I felt no position to drive a race car around exactly the same track the following day. But getting out of those pits and going through Raidillon and that, it was bizarre how natural and normal it felt. And I can’t describe that.
“It is probably just once you have a deep passion and love to get something, that is the outcome. I surprised myself, In all honesty. And we all did Sunday.
“I did not expect to enjoy any portion of the race, no matter where I ended. However, I did that rush of racing, and enjoy being back out there. Yes, it was in your mind, of course. But we are able to put it into one side for a moment, I can’t explain why or how. It will surprise me.”
Ricciardo is famous for his eponymous style, and his attacking victories, often made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves where he throws the car down the inside of a competition in an impossible space back. How does the dangers be rationalised by him, carry on knowing that an injury is always a possibility?
“You have got to at all times control the controllables,” he says. “In my own case, I figure not find reckless.
“After the race or at times you will find me provide a driver the finger or show my type of anger. But I’ve tried to teach myself become irresponsible and also to not allow the emotion take over the driver at the race.
“Yes, I’ve tried some overdue overtakes in my time and I have done some moves which may seem risky, but there’s always a level of calculation and control in that and it has never done purely on emotion.
“So I’ll not let myself get reckless or put myself in a situation I do not need to be in. Yes, I want to take risks and be on this line. But be sensible enough to not over-step it and that also I think I’m able to do this.
“From this perspective, I am comfortable hopping in the car. There’s obviously the thing of technical and failures stuff that could go wrong. That is an uncontrollable out of my side. Can not really consider these really. And even if you know they are there and present times, when you place the helmet on and get going, you do not think about it.
“It’s one of the things that when it occurs in the incorrect place or the wrong corner, then what can you? You have got to put that motive in your head that it could have happened on the way into the circuit, so it might have happened on the road.”
It is for racing drivers to discuss the probability of death so and danger publicly rare.
Security is discussed each weekend at F1, but it within an abstract level – everything can people do about this farming trap, or this obstruction?
It has been brought front and center by the departure of hubert. Is it difficult is it to talk about doing it?
“Obviously it is tough to address something that is genuine and has happened,” Ricciardo states,”however, it does help to discuss it. Having the comfort of everybody else and being on the grid and talking to some of the other motorists… yeah, it’s not fun talking about it all, but it also will help relieve any feelings or emotions.
“I think just knowing that you are in the exact identical boat with someone else, knowing that you’re not lonely feeling how you do, which helps.
“Being a part of a group or a community. This has been the place you realisethere are rivalries or anything, but a competition on course does not express how much we all have in common and how far we really do really care and feel for each other.
“It’s hard but it does feel nice to find some of it off your chest.”
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