Hindsight is a wonderful thing. A few weeks ago, we interviewed Daniel Ricciardo. In the wake of his announced shock move from Red Bull to Renault for 2019, that interview now takes on greater meaning.
Reading back, the signs of discontent were there.
This is what he said to us during a remarkably candid interview when he was still deciding what he should do for next season.
“I would say it’s getting closer,” he said of his contract. “Once Red Bull did the Honda deal, [I knew] this is what we’ve got. Now it’s just me being convinced that’s the right move. The more I’m around the team and the more I hear, obviously I’m starting to be convinced.”
Easy to say now, but when he said it, he didn’t exactly look like he meant it.
Ferrari appeared to be the only other option at the time with Mercedes committing to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Renault? Most if us had ruled the team out because it currently represents a sideways move, and that is being charitable. He seemed disappointed that Ferrari hadn’t courted him.
We asked, would Vettel accept him at Ferrari, given Ricciardo famously upstaged the four-time champion at Red Bull during their season together in 2014?
“I don’t know,” was the blunt answer. “I thought there would have been more interest than there has been, so maybe he wouldn’t. I probably don’t have many options!”
He seemed resigned to Red Bull and Honda, but he was hardly full of enthusiasm.
“It’s not that I was craving something else,” he said. “It’s a tough one because I feel for a lot of years we’ve had a great chassis. It’s always every year, this is our year. We win a few more, but we’re not quite there. If I was to leave and Honda come good…
“If the engine was able to even outperform the Renault it puts us in a really good mix. Look, I’m obviously leaning towards staying and hoping the Honda stuff works out.”
Clearly, that hope wasn’t enough to convince him in the end. He needs a change of team, to inject some belief. Not in himself – as this interviewed highlighted, he’s not short of self-confidence. But despite two brilliant victories this year, Red Bull lost him mentally at some point along the trail.
Still, Ricciardo hardly cut a sorry figure when we met him. That’s not his style. He doesn’t do the pouty Formula 1 driver stereotype.
“I get upset when I see some guys not enjoying it,” he said on the subject of life in F1. “Everyone has bad days. Some days I’m fed up with the sport, there are so many ups and downs. If I could really do it again, start as a kid, I probably wouldn’t because there are so many other variables which are frustrating.
“At the same time, I do love my job. Nothing is perfect, but it’s not a bad position to be in, to travel and at least see some of the world. Other drivers… even in interviews, just smile. Even if it’s fake, just do it.”
But that admission that he’d think twice if he had the chance to start all over again… Was that another sign of his disaffection? Maybe.
Ricciardo should have years ahead of him in F1, whether it’s with Renault or another team at the end of his new two-year contract. But that doesn’t stop him looking ahead to what life will bring when it’s over. This is a man with a wider view of life.
“Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to do a road trip through America. I kind of joke about it, but I don’t know if I am joking: part of the reason why I’ll stop when I do is because I actually want to do these things, and I don’t want to do them too late in life.
“I’d like to do the road trip with a few mates. Do the big things like the Grand Canyon, but also do the Daytona 500 – then just go to small unheard-of towns and watch a guy play a banjo for 10 people… I’m fortunate to already do a lot, but you kind of get a taste for the travel. Most of the time it’s just a tease because we’re there, but not really…”
Racing drivers don’t often talk about life post-retirement when they are still only 29. It makes us wonder: if he doesn’t see progress at Renault, and Mercedes or Ferrari still don’t come calling in the next few years, will he lose his patience with F1?
He is yearning to take the next step and experience what it’s like to challenge for a title. When asked what it’s like racing against two drivers who are statistically among the greatest of all time, this is how he responded.
“Are you talking about Seb?”
“I beat him.”
We broke into laughs, but the feigned arrogance was only a partial joke.
“Taking nothing away from them, I firmly believe that I’m capable of achieving the same things,” he said “But it’s also easier said than done. To give them credit, and I’m sure it’s due 100 per cent, I’ve won races and won under high pressure situations, but I’ve never gone to Abu Dhabi with a chance to win [the title].
“You’ve got one weekend now and it’s between two or three of you, do you have what it takes? I believe I’ve got it, but I haven’t been in that position. That’s the next level.”
Whether a Renault can take him to that place remains to be seen. If it can’t and a seat in a silver or red car doesn’t come his way, Ricciardo might well head west for that road trip without a second glance.