For most of his career, eight-time Formula 1 winner Daniel Ricciardo was a bit of a dark horse for all but the most passionate Formula 1 devotees. But as one of the central figures in Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary series, his happy-go-lucky persona has charmed a wider audience and a multitude of new fans around the globe.
We caught up with the Aussie at the beginning of F1 testing in Spain to talk about this year’s season, the elevation of his celebrity, and his dream on-track battle.
Men’s Journal: What are your expectations for the 2022 season?
Daniel Ricciardo: I’m hopeful we can obviously be competitive, podium, try to win a few races, but we haven’t seen these rule changes in such a long time that we don’t really know what to expect. I really hope the field bunches up, like from first to last there’s only a second between the cars, as opposed to two or three seconds. Close to harder racing, I think that would be awesome. I mean, I’m prepared, but obviously the car is a big factor in this sport, so I couldn’t tell you today where I expect to finish.
Can you tell me what success looks like for this season?
A handful of podiums, top three in the teams championship. I’d love to obviously get another win, if not 10. But how I rate my success is how I feel leaving a race. If I know I’ve done everything I can that weekend and left it all out on the track, then that’s success.
Who do you view as your main rival this season?
I definitely expect Mercedes and Red Bull to be strong again. So, Lewis [Hamilton], Max [Verstappen], the usual contenders. But I think it’s a year that Ferrari could step up again and really fight for wins. Lewis also has a new teammate this year, George Russell. He’s a very young, fast driver, so he could be a threat as well—a real competitor.
Aston Martin looks like they’ve designed a pretty different car to everyone else at this stage, with a different philosophy, so they might be onto something.
After two years with no Aussie GP, I imagine you’re excited to get home to race?
Yeah! Having a home race is a real privilege because you’ve got so much support and love. The sport’s grown in the last 24 months, quite significantly, and I expect it to be pretty wild. It’ll be a nice entrance.
What do you think Drive to Survive’s impact has been on F1?
Putting it simply and very basically, it’s been massive! I know there are statistics that the growth has been immense from it, but personally I’ve felt it. Europe’s known about F1 since the start of time, really, so it’s grown in Europe, but it’s more the markets that didn’t really know anything about F1—particularly the States. Three, four years ago I’ll holiday there and not get stopped once. Now it’s a regular occurrence and people enjoy it. So it’s not just that you’re recognized, it’s that they really are taking a liking to the sport, and that’s what makes me most happy. You can share the sport now with more of the world, and it’s getting more appreciated.
Do you think it’s because of the accessibility—that the series lends a lens into what happens day to day, race to race?
Yeah, absolutely. For years it was such a doors-closed, private sport. It was only a few years ago we were allowed to take videos with our camera phones in the paddock and the pits. They’ve opened up a lot more, and obviously Netflix has come in full steam. It’s also a sport where not only did it used to be very private but, unless the driver’s on the podium, you never really see the driver with the helmet off. So there’s probably a period of time where no one really knew what drivers looked like as well.
Has the show made it easier for the previously loyal F1 fans to get a little deeper into the sport?
If you’ve been a fan of F1 for 10, 20 years, it’s probably what you always craved or wished for, all this access. So now getting it, it’s probably pretty huge for someone who’s followed it for so long.
In the show you come across as a happy-go-lucky warrior, which is a bit atypical for an F1 driver. Do you feel like that’s accurate?
Yeah, it’s definitely me. I think when I first got into F1, people thought ‘Oh, okay, this kid’s too happy-go-lucky, and he’s not hard enough and he doesn’t want it enough because he’s just bouncing around, smiling and joking a lot.’ But I think once I proved that I can deliver on the track and I do have that other side to me, then it was cool. It encouraged me to still be me, because I was able to make the transition from Daniel to driver.
How do you keep that vibe even when things aren’t going so great?
That vibe is challenged for sure, it’s not unconditional. I’ll credit perspective, and I definitely have the ability to find perspective in things. I remember one bad race, I got taken out on lap one, which is like worst case scenario. You build up all day to race, then in 30 seconds your race is over. Obviously, I was upset and pissed, but I was still like, ‘You know what? My friends would kill to have this job.’ I want to appreciate that if a bad day for me is still being at a racetrack somewhere and having a chance to perform, then it’s not all bad. And I knew I had another chance the following week. As long as you get a chance for redemption, then I think there’s always a good way to look at things. And having people around you, whether it’s family, friends—they can help pick you up when things don’t go as planned.
So with the chaos of the finish in Abu Dhabi, do you feel like there’s an asterisk on the last season?
I don’t. I think it was definitely a moment in time that was obviously quite dramatic. I guess for the whole race, everyone was thinking Hamilton was probably going to win, and then obviously that changed. So yeah, the outcome and everything was a big moment in time, but I don’t think it tarnishes the season. Of course, that race was what it was, and some people agreed. Some people didn’t. So it was quite polarizing. But to show my respect to Lewis and Max, what they did all season was pretty immense. So I think that will be appreciated and respected much more than that last lap.
Do you think that was the right decision?
I think with hindsight you’d probably say maybe a red flag would’ve been best, then everyone can restart on, say, the same tires. But it’s obviously easier said than done. And I’ve never sat in race control, so I would hate to know how hard those decisions can be. In hindsight, yeah, I guess they would’ve probably changed a bit.
How do you evaluate risk behind the wheel?
A lot of it is on feeling. It’s kind of two parts. It’s the literal feeling of do I think the car can do what I want it to do. But then the other part of the feeling is how will this make me feel if I take this risk. So my example is overtaking. There’s always a risk overtaking someone. But, you kind of go, ‘How will this make me feel if I don’t take the risk and I just finish wherever I am and play it safe?’ The answer normally is that won’t make me feel good because I didn’t try.
What does speed feel like to you when you’re on the edge?
It’s fun and scary. Speed is something you become conditioned to as well. Driving F1 the first time I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t think I can do this. This is so fast.’ But the more you do it, the more you’re like, ‘Oh, actually this isn’t fast enough.’
The feeling it gives me is freedom. I guess if you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle, you know you’ve got the wind blowing in your hair and that sort of stuff, and you feel like you’re going fast, and you feel like you’re free and you’re untouchable. So, they’re kind of the feelings I get from speed. But yeah, ultimately, it’s an adrenaline rush, and that’s what I love about it, probably more than anything.
From, you seem more like a truck guy. What’s your daily driver right now?
I love bikes, mountain biking or dirt biking, so I’ve always had a truck of some sort so I can put a bike in the back. My favorite truck I’ve had is a Raptor; that’s kind of my happy truck. And then if I’m obviously doing any kind of Sunday drive, where I want to have a bit of fun, then the good people of McLaren assist me wherever I am in the world.
You’ve got a few tattoos. Any new ink?
My last one actually was in Spa (Belgium Grand Prix)—the race that got rained out last year. My friend was there at the race and he’s a tattoo artist, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got my gun with me.’ So, he tattooed me in a Belgium hotel room, and yeah, that was that. It says “Of love and life,” and it’s the title of a song for the band I love,. I don’t know, it just kind of rings, and I just love it. The song as well, it’s quite deep, and it actually makes me think of the things that I do love and care for, like family, especially when I’m away from home for a long time.
Do you have any guilty pleasures on the road? Tattoos not withstanding.
I love trying to find a good burger, especially a Buffalo chicken burger or something. So yeah. Mostly if I’m in the States, I feel like they do it well. I normally try and eat something naughty.
I spent quite a bit of time in LA, and one of the first fried chicken burgers I had was in Santa Monica at this restaurant called, and they do wicked fried chicken. I think they even call it a fried chicken sandwich, but it’s a fried chicken burger, and that was one of the first I had, and it opened my eyes to how good fried chicken can really be.
If you could only race one more race, any series, any car, anything, against whom would you race, and where would you do it?
Look, I’ve never done it and it would be cool, so Daytona 500 and, yeah, if I could race against Dale Earnhardt Jr. that would be really cool.
Is Dale Earnhardt a hero?
Massively! I was a big NASCAR fan growing up. In Austin last year, at the race, I did a Dale Earnhardt kind of tribute helmet, because it was 20 years since his passing. That was cool.
Drive to Survive Season 4 debuts March 11.