Interview: Daniel Ricciardo (2009 British F3 Champion and Red Bull F1 Reserve)

Last year, 20-year-old racing driver, Daniel Ricciardo won the British Formula 3 Championship with Carlin Motorsport in convincing style with two races to spare at the marvellous Portimao circuit in Portugal.

It wasn’t the only high point of the year for the young Australian, as 2009 also saw Ricciardo make his début in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series and take part in the Formula 1 rookie tests at the beginning of December in Jerez. From the outside, it seemed to be a year where things really came together for the Red Bull backed driver, but I think that maybe it’s best that he explains it himself.

As well as the aforementioned F3 title, the Formula Renault 3.5 start and the F1 test, you also took part in the famous Macau Grand Prix in November and were announced as the joint reserve driver for the Red Bull Racing Team (with Brendon Hartley). Would you consider 2009 to have been a bit of a good year..?
2009 was a great year for me! A lot more happened than I expected and it was all positive so it was a year I will remember.

For 2010, you will be competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship for Tech 1 Racing – how much of a step up from F3 is the Renault Series and was something like GP2 ever on the radar for the year?
World Series by Renault (WSR) is another level up in terms of car size, power, experience levels, competition, pit stops, etc. In terms of driving style there isn’t a huge difference from F3. The car is a little slower to react in the low speed corners due to its weight and size so the technique can be a little different here, otherwise the rest is very similar. As far as I know GP2 wasn’t on the radar for me. It wasn’t discussed.

The first Formula Renault 3.5 race does not take place until mid-April. With so little going on during the winter months, how do you keep yourself occupied?
Lots of training and preparation including fitness camps in the Alps, F1 simulator at Red Bull, mountain biking and some Guitar Hero!

The Alps and Guitar Hero!! Sounds like sheer hell… In November, you were very quick at the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, but unfortunately had a bit of a tough time in the two races themselves (finishing 6th in race 1 and a suffering a DNF in race 2) – is there a feeling of unfinished business there or are you tempted to just move on to whatever project comes next?
Macau is an unbelievable event and I would love to return there this year. It was a little disappointing to end my weekend the way it did, considering it started very well. But this is Macau and I would say that it was my experience in the street circuit environment which let me down in the end. I have moved on and learnt from this, but would love another chance.

Now that you are the Red Bull Racing Team’s joint third driver, what are your roles at the team and will you find yourself having to attend more of the race weekends?
Yep, I will be going to quite a few of the races this season. I will attend the driver briefings, sit in with the engineer and driver after sessions and try to get involved and learn as much as possible without being a pain in the ass.

Your rookie test in Jerez in December appeared to go well – in fact you clocked up the overall fastest time over the course of the three days, but that seems to be a very short amount of testing for any young driver. How much can a driver really learn and absorb in such a short time?
Jerez was great. I surprised myself that’s for sure. I guess when you have good people surrounding you with Red Bull and Roger Cleary (team mate Mark Webber’s physio) this helps a lot and made the test more easy and comfortable for me. It is a lot to take in and absorb in only three days but I am young and was able to soak up most of the information that the team was giving me.

There are some pretty big differences between an F3 and an F1 car – how do you prepare for that both physically and mentally?
As my training program was pretty good during my F3 season, I didn’t want to alter this too much before the F1 test as it would of perhaps been a shock to my body. So I kept the base of my training the same, but increased the intensities bit by bit leading up to the test [and] focused a bit more on my neck as well. Then mentally there is not much you can do but enjoy the experience and not get your head wondering about too many things. Once I was in the car with the helmet on, driving was all I was focused on.

With the majority of rookies at the Jerez test coming from the European fold, was there competition between all the drivers to get the fastest lap or was it all about learning the new car and team?
I think the majority of us were just thrilled to be a part of it so the times weren’t the first thing on our mind. It was a big learning curve for all of us and a huge experience so there was plenty of stuff to be focused on rather than the times, but I’m not saying that ending the test P1 wasn’t a good thing. That was the icing on the cake.

It is a long way from Perth where you grew up to Red Bull’s Milton Keynes base – how did you go from winning State and National Karting championships to the Red Bull Junior Squad?
It still spins me out thinking it wasn’t so long ago I was there in Perth racing at my local track. I raced karts till I was 16, then I did some Formula Ford to learn about open wheel driving and then competed in Formula BMW Asia in 2006 as my first season in cars. This was a great year to learn at an overseas level and prepared me well for Europe which is where I went in 2007 doing Italian Formula Renault. At the end of the 2007 season I received an email from Red Bull (Austria) saying they would like me to be part of there junior driver test in Estoril and potentially be on there junior driver program for the 2008 season. The test went very well, I was the fastest and this was the start of my career with Red Bull.

According to your profile from your website, Mark Webber is listed as one of your favourite drivers – what is it like to find yourself in the team with someone that you have looked up to for some time?
Its pretty cool I can tell you. Mark is a great guy and its quite surreal that I will be working in the same atmosphere as him. I will try to learn what I can from Mark as he is very knowledgeable and has been in F1 for nearly ten years so I will for sure learn a lot being around him.

Do you have any advice for young drivers that are trying to come through the ranks of motor racing?
You have to be 100% sure that this is what you want to do. You need full commitment as there are so many other young kids out there who want to be in your place. Work hard and if someone is getting an advantage on you, then you must be willing to work harder. You have to make some sacrifices and block out some things you enjoy, but keep looking at the big picture and the light at the end of the tunnel.

How difficult it is to raise the necessary finances at the junior level to be competitive?
It is very difficult. Motor racing is the most expensive sport in the world and I can tell you now that my dad would have preferred tennis or something! Coming from Australia its not the biggest motorsport country in the world and its hard to get some solid backing to help out the old man, but I am grateful for the ones we have found along the way and there support is a huge help. Unless you have good sponsors behind you it is very hard to be competitive or even compete at a European level.

What are your goals for 2010 both inside and outside of racing?
In terms of racing this year I want to be in the title hunt for WSR and be consistently fighting for podiums. For Formula 1 I want to learn everything possible in order to be prepared for any opportunity that may arise in the near future. Outside of racing I want to keep increasing my fitness and get to the next level with that. Other than this I just want to enjoy life and hopefully see more of my family and friends.

Thanks again to Red Bull Racing junior driver, Daniel Ricciardo.

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