As a veteran of three whole races it seems premature to question Daniel Ricciardo on his progress as a Formula One racing driver but at the same time it also seems strangely apposite.
Daniel’s progress over the British, German and Hungarian Grands Prix has been distinctly upwards. He’s finished each race, and each one faster than the last.
Measuring his advancement against the excellent benchmark set down by Tonio Liuzzi it’s been clear that the Australian driver is picking up a lot in a short period of time: going from a lap down on the experienced Italian at Silverstone to finishing – with a little luck – ahead at the Hungaroring.
We caught up with Daniel in Spa ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix...
Was it useful to have the summer break, or was it a distraction?
DR: It was nice to get a couple of weeks off, just to analyse everything that’s gone on and, at the same time, take my mind away from everything – because it has been pretty hectic. I took a couple of days after Budapest to analyse what happened and took a few days off in Italy and then back to England doing some training. It’s been good and I definitely feel refreshed and ready to go.
Was Hungary a particularly satisfying race?
Yeah, it was! At least from where I started at Silverstone: Nürburgring was a step forward and Hungary was another step forward from the Nürburgring. I think there have definitely been signs of progression, and that’s positive, it’s what I want. I couldn’t expect too much from my first race, but as long as it kept going up from there – which it has – I’ve been happy.
What’s been the most difficult thing to adapt to in an F1 car?
Probably the race situation with the tyres: never having never done a race distance that long and never really experiencing a long run with the Pirelli tyre and the best way to manage it and set up the car for that. You can’t just look at qualifying. I’m learning that, trying to still be good in qualifying but maybe sacrifice a bit more for the race. Each race I’m definitely finding something more. That’s probably been the biggest learning curve.
'Each race I’m definitely finding something more'
Have you spoken much with Tonio Liuzzi?
We talk a bit but the reality is every man for himself. I’ll try to get a little bit of information from him, and to be honest when I’ve asked he’s given me an answer or tried to help me out. I think the relationship has been normal. I want to beat him, I guess he wants to stay in front of me, so as long as we can work together without any conflict – which there hasn’t been any sign of – then I think we’ll push each other up. I guess the target is to both be in front of the Virgins – that’s usually seen as a pretty good result from a team point of view.
You’ve said you think you're lacking a little bit in high speed corners – Spa has plenty of those so is this weekend and opportunity to learn something?
I think so, and it’s an area in which I can see myself improving, because in previous categories the high speed corners have been what I enjoy the most – it’s usually been a strong point for me, certainly not a weak point. I think it’s about getting a bit of confidence with the car and certainly trusting what it can do. So yeah, it’s quite nice to see I still have some time to gain there. I know I can. Hopefully this weekend should be a good test for that.
More time in any car gives you more confidence with it, and that confidence gives you the guts to go through faster in a particular corner. We’ll see. Eau Rouge should be [flat out]. Pouhon should be the toughest one, it’s definitely not [flat out] so, whoever lifts the least through there will be doing alright.
Is there anything better than racing at Spa?
It’s pretty crazy to be in an F1 car around Spa. It’s the circuit I loved as a kid, watching all the races on TV it’s the one I looked forward to seeing. I’m pretty grateful to be one of the few who’s been able to drive around here in an F1 car.
Is there less pressure on you, driving a car right at the back?
There’s always pressure from the people supporting me and watching me but I guess from an outside point of view there is less pressure being here. Maybe a few of my mistakes don’t get seen by the whole world! It’s been a nice way to get into it. I think if I was to start in a Red Bull there would be a bit more pressure – because if you’re not on the podium then you’re not doing a good enough job. Here, I still have my own targets but it’s a little bit less tense.
It’s probably a better thing for me to be here now. Doing the basic learning and staying out of trouble; finishing the races and getting the laps in is a good thing. You’re starting more towards the back so there’s less chance of having an incident at the start and more chance of finishing the race. I think the laps are the most important. The reality is the more laps I get, the more knowledge I’ll gain – but I want to finish higher up as well.
Is doing a grand prix a better learning experience than a three-day testing session?
I think in terms of car setup and finding out what does what to the car, you probably get more from testing because you have much more freedom and less risk, trying what you want. However, on a race weekend you have the added pressure, the tyre situation, putting it down on one lap, so there’s definitely more variables, so as a whole I think the race weekend is much more beneficial, but in terms of setup, maybe not as much, because you’re not inclined to take risks.
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