“Only five times?! No, wait, I’ve got more than that. Shanghai… s***… Monaco, Canada, Silverstone… oh yeah! Oh yeah, you’re right! Wow!”
Daniel Ricciardo is an entertaining guy nearly 24/7, but it was especially funny watching him work out how many times he has scored points this season after initially disputing the fact that Monza was his fifth score.
The humor hasn’t faded. If anything, it might even have increased as the likable Australian relaxes into his Renault surroundings this year – despite there really only being five occasions when he has crossed the line inside the top 10.
“When you put it like that, wow,” Ricciardo concedes. “Yeah, I guess I expected to be in the points more often, but I would say last year was a frustrating season, because after Monaco I had two wins in the first six races, and then not another podium – let alone a win – since then. So if someone would have said that to me then, I wouldn’t have believed that.
“So last year was frustrating because it was less expected. This year I actually didn’t know what to expect, but I also knew where the team was, and I knew also personally for me there would be some things I needed to learn and do differently. So in a way I never let myself get frustrated with what was going to happen this year.
“I knew we wouldn’t be there even at Red Bull’s level, so I had already mentally put that aside. Some races haven’t been fun, like Austria, running 14th most of the race, or wherever we were. Yeah that’s not fun, but I haven’t really been frustrated.
“If we have a bad result then I’m just, like, ‘Yeah, this sucks, but let’s do better. I came here to do better, you got me here to do better, everyone here wants to do better, so…’ So I’ve had that mindset, as opposed to ‘this is hopeless, it’s never going to work’. I really haven’t had that at all. So frustration didn’t creep in.”
Monza was a result that hinted at to kickstarting Renault’s season when a double top five finish – Ricciardo fourth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg – severely dented McLaren’s advantage in the constructors’ championship. But even without the fresh motivation that result provided, Ricciardo is confident his mood at this stage of the year would not change.
“I’ve been frustrated at times, but like even Budapest qualifying, deep down I was angry – and I was a bit angry at the team, but hand on heart, I was also angry at myself. I kind of just vented and probably didn’t want to admit it to myself then that I could have also done better. But I was more probably frustrated with knowing that I’m maybe better than that, or smarter than that.
“I’ve never really had it purely at the team in terms of… Not to be too dramatic, but at no point this year have I lost hope that this was a bad decision, or, ‘what am I doing?’ I haven’t questioned it, so for me that’s very reassuring.”
The 30-year-old explains that reassurance comes from an understanding that his move to Renault is not just a one-way street. While his arrival was a big statement of intent from the French manufacturer, Ricciardo feels the need to justify his price tag both on and off track given his recent race-winning experience.
“The first thing when I signed with the team was seeing everyone like standing up and cheering, it was kind of overwhelming. And I don’t mean to put myself in that light, but I could just see that there was excitement, and that alone was amazing for me to see, but was also motivating.
“I was like, ‘OK, for whatever reason these guys are actually happy to have me! They must think I’m pretty good! So I feel like now I really owe them something’. So that was really motivating for me.
“Yeah, I took a risk coming here, but also they took a pretty big risk signing me, so it worked both ways. It wasn’t just purely on them, like, ‘they’ve got to give Daniel the car’. They’ve also invested in me, so I want to repay them.
“Me being me, a positive attitude, I think naturally that does keep the team up, especially if things aren’t going too great. But from a driving point of view, driving is one thing – and I’d like to say I drive an F1 car OK – but having worked with a recently-winning team, I can give the team some technical advice, where to work on the car. I can say things like ‘this is Red Bull’s strength, this is why we were so good in this area, forget that for now and let’s emphasize this area’.
“So I can give that sort of guidance, and also even just the mentality. When I got into Red Bull they had won four world titles, so as soon as I walked in there I was like, ‘OK there’s a level of cockiness, a level of confidence in here’ and when I walked into here naturally they didn’t have that same level because they haven’t been winners for a few years. So trying to also give them some confidence and build them up a bit, just get them to believe that this can work.
“Obviously once I start to show that I believe it then they start to rally, and are like, ‘OK, well if he does believe it, he’s the one driving the car and he’s come to this team from a championship team, so maybe we should start believing it too’. And it just starts having a positive effect on everyone.”
The cockiness has clearly been missing from a Renault team that is yet to finish on the podium since returning to Formula 1 in 2016. And in part, that’s simply because of the stage the team is at in its development. Ricciardo has noticed areas Renault has needed to invest in simply to reach a similar level in terms of facilities compared to his old team.
“I saw at the start of the year there’s still some ‘timidness’ within the team,” he says. “I’m not pinpointing anyone, but whether that’s with engineers or mechanics or whoever, I feel like they are a bit reserved. They wouldn’t always speak up, and if they thought there was a (different) direction I could sense that maybe they weren’t really with the direction it was going, but maybe they felt afraid to give their opinion.
“Whereas at Red Bull, there was a bit more confidence and decisiveness, a bit of conviction because they’d won and it was ‘No, we did it right, that’s what we’re doing’. Here it was a bit of uncertainty, so I’m just encouraging them to believe in themselves.
“From a team mentality at the start of the year, I could tell it was a bit expected that we’re midfielders – I’m not talking about the top, even in the garage and that – but then come Canada where we qualified fourth, yes there was joy and celebration because it was great and amazing, but you could just see there was a confidence and they weren’t freaking out.
“They weren’t like, ‘Wow, we don’t really belong here but let’s go and party tonight’. It was more like, ‘Yeah, this is where we deserve to be, and where we do belong’. So this kind of all shifted. But it wasn’t there at first and it’s what Red Bull had, so trying to bring that in was one thing.
“Then in terms of infrastructure, it’s growing a lot at Renault. Red Bull did definitely have more when I came in, but Renault’s getting there. There’s still a bit to go, but it’s getting a lot closer. So that was Red Bull’s strength, in development and the rate that they could get something on paper and get it built and onto the car. That was really their strength, getting updates, updates, and that’s where the team has put a lot of emphasis this year with new machinery.
“Again that’s a comfort zone, getting out of their comfort zone and not being afraid to pull the trigger and say ‘F***, just build it, let’s just put it on’ as opposed to testing it five or six times and going ‘Ah we’re still not sure’ and then two weeks has passed. So these are things also Nico has told me – he told me that last year it wasn’t like this, so I’m also understanding how it used to be from him.”
In highlighting the differences between his old team and new, Ricciardo points out exactly where he’d expect progress to be made. So while he speaks positively for now and insists this season is one he has faced without any significant frustration, he admits that will not be the case in 2020…
“In my mind, knowing it’s at least a two-year deal, I did kind of give this year not too much weight or expectation,” he says. “But certainly next year is when I’d definitely begin to expect more, and not expect to be having races where we’re 12th or 13th or 14th. We need to be consistently getting up there and bridging the gap to the top guys.
“So I do expect that coming into next year. If we’re not there by race three or race four, am I going to start losing my s***? No, not at all, but now where I stand, we do definitely need to make a step. But also I believe we can do it because we have had flashes of it this year, and I think still with a car which we know can be a lot better.
“So it is there, and that’s why I guess in a way I expect it. I’m not praying for it. I think it is there somewhere.”