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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 author
Daniel Ricciardo went through which could be described as a dark night of the soul, last Saturday.
After the passing of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver went back into his hotel and questioned whether it was all worth it. The answer didn’t come easily, but the Australian raced on Sunday at Spa.
Four days , he sits down with BBC Sport at the start of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, also delves deep into what it requires for a racing driver to confront his fears and race on in these difficult conditions.
“I certainly questioned it,” the 30-year-old Australian states. “The stark reality is, I really do love it a lot. Racing did feel in the end. Although I did not really wish to, after I did it, it was like, OK, that really feels normal and right.”
For quite a long time over last weekend it felt anything but ordinary.
“When you are a kid and you watch it on TV, and you’re not present or not part of it,” Ricciardo states,”it still seems like there’s some form of distance, or even a disconnection to what’s occurred.
“But when you are there and it occurs to one of your coworkers, also it’s in exactly the same race, it sounds more real, and it’s like:’OK, this actually can happen to anyone, and it is here, it’s present today.’
“The realisation people not being invincible does set in. I know my parents stress for me already – you know, watching me race and travel the entire world and now being on a plane. You simply question it: is it truly worth putting not only myself but family below the same sum of pressure?”
At night of the accident, Ricciardo says, he”did not get much sleep, and for sure you’re asking yourself questions, likely only fighting just a little bit with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you understand?
“And then also fighting with a few of the emotions of should I get up and race tomorrow? Could it be the right thing? Can it be the perfect thing to do to me?
“And I kind of did think:’Let us see how I feel by lunchtime, and when I am still having some doubts then maybe the most powerful thing for me would be to not race’
“I sort of wanted to play it by ear. Running through all these situations:’What should I feel in this way? Imagine if this?’
“By Sunday morningI had a little more clarity. I wake up preparing myself and did manage to sleep just a little bit. However, it still felt weird and cold. It didn’t feel right to become excited to race to be pleased to know there. It felt tick off the moments and find the business done.
“The lead-up into the race, I’d probably only describe it as not very fun in terms of only it was tough to try and go through the moves and undergo a regular when that has happened less than 24 hours past. Additionally, you know, motorists’ parade and all that, you are waving to fans, however you do not feel being happy or right grinning, I guess.
“It was difficult, just trying to enter the zone, just attempting to get any kind of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday was not simple, but it had been more of a despair than a fear and I think that it was important I established that. If I had been getting in the vehicle using a pure amount of dread, then it would not happen to be clever for me . I did know that it was a sadness.”
“Once we sort of got going, it really felt like pretty great release. It felt like a de-stress, simply competing and racing. It was just like flushing the system and that felt great just going at those rates.
“After the race, for sure I was still glad that it was done but I’d feel much better than I did two hours prior to that.
“I will be honest, the race has been fun. It was good to be outside. And as far as I was anticipating seeing the flag, I’d like a pure race Sunday.”
The race acted as a kind of catharsis.
“When something happens, you have just go to dip into it, and that is the best method of beating it. And I believe that is what the race was for us. I informed little things too:’Just go whenever possible. Leave the pits and go, and try to enter that mode already. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t over-think certain places.’
“I remember I got from these pits, drifted out, and forced myself to put in that mindset straight away.”
This is a reference to his ideas about going through Raidillon, where Hubert needed his crash. It’s part of the Eau Rouge swerves, a left-hander within the brow of a hill taken out in over 180mph.
“I told myself:’Go whole throttle, and just don’t over-think this corner, so don’t over-think any of it’ From these pits… maintained it full. It felt great to get out there and do that although that really was a relief. And that told me I was prepared to go.
“I think if I was, large lift and fearful, then that would be a sign that maybe I should not be on the trail at the moment. I guess I needed to do this to check myself and it felt right.”
Can he talk to the drivers about it?
“I got to talk to some few. This past season, I only met Anthoine. The Renault Academy boys spent a lot of time and I watched them Sunday morning. I spoke to a few of them as well, just text.
“They had completed training camps collectively. They are a family. They’re younger. That’s where I believed I could attempt to be a tiny bit of, even in certain ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. I had been feeling it, however they were so. We gave a kiss to each other on Sunday. We tried to talk over it a bit.
“And then with the other motorists, I talked to some of them, but before the race you could see everybody kind of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to the motorist parade, we’re all just standing out there. There were a few handshakes or hugs however, you could sort of tell everyone was just hoping to prepare for the race and it turned out to be a demanding one. Following the race, I spoke to largely the French motorists, who I knew were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not. The last F1 driver was the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in a crash. Ricciardo had come up Bianchi through the ranks and they were close buddies.
“Jules’ [departure ] struck me quite hard,” Ricciardo states. “In a way, not disrespecting it, I was really amazed how hard it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit on me hard and for this to last long – the damage and the sadness from this extended over a period.
“With past weekend, you believe time type of remedies everything, and it was just like, OK, nothing’s happened for a while and with good reason. The game’s got safer and we’re at a good location. And then it occurs. And it is a jolt.
“It is an anger that it’s occurred again. We thought we’d moved on from all this. It is when it is refreshed on your head again and it is there in front of you, it is hard not to think about it with trouble.”
Has it altered his outlook on racing?
“Initially, it did change. Time does heal it. Those emotions that are intense did fizzle out.
“Together with the Jules one, I felt like my purpose and intent then has been,’OK, if we are going to strap ourselves into those cars, and if we are all conscious of the hazard, it does not make sense to go in half-heartedly. If we’re going to do it, then go in, and make it rewarding.’
“I felt like Jules’ passing kind of made me adopt the racer more so. And to be fair that this will probably end up having the identical effect.
“I did not have that kind of fear from the race. And before that fear measures, I use it as a kind of motivation. However many years I do it, at least I can say that I did it correctly.”
It can be hard to comprehend how a racing motorist can compartmentalise their anxieties this way, or the uniqueness of the kind of character needed to perform a job they know can kill thembut to go ahead and do it anyhow because they love it so much they can’t stop.
Can Ricciardo explain what exactly causes F1 drivers capable to survive with that contradiction?
He pauses for a couple of seconds.
“Really I get goosebumps,” he states,”since I do not actually understand how or why.
“On Saturday night, I felt no spot to drive a race car around exactly the identical track the following day. But getting out of these pits and going through Raidillon and that, it was bizarre how natural and ordinary it felt. And I can not explain that.
“It is probably just once you have a deep fascination and love to get something, that is the outcome. In all honesty, I amazed myself. And we all did on Sunday.
“I did not expect to like any area of the race, so no matter where I ended. But I did enjoy being out there, and that rush of hurrying. Yes, it had been still in your mind, of course. But we’re ready to place it to one side for an instant, I can not explain how or why. It does surprise me.”
Ricciardo is famous for his eponymous style, along with his attacking successes, often made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves in which he yells the car down the inside of a competition in an impossible space back. How does he rationalise the dangers, on knowing that an injury is always a possibility, carry?
“You’ve got to always control the controllables,” he states. “In my own case, I suppose not find reckless.
“After the race at times you may see me give a driver the finger show my sort of anger. However, I tried to educate myself to not let the emotion take more than the driver in the race and become irresponsible.
“Yes, I have tried some late overtakes in my time and I have completed some motions that might appear risky, but there is always a degree of control and calculation in that and it’s never done purely on emotion.
“So I will never let myself get reckless or place myself in a position I don’t have to be in. Yes, also be on this line that is fine and I want to take risks. But be sensible enough to not over-step it and also I think I am ready to do that.
“From this perspective, I’m comfortable hopping in the vehicle. There the thing of technical things and failures that may fail. That’s an uncontrollable from my side. Can not really consider those. And in case you know they are present times and there, when you get going and put the helmet on, you don’t think about it.
“It is one of the things that if it occurs in the incorrect place or the incorrect corner, then what exactly do you do? You have got to place that rationale in mind that it could have occurred on the way into the circuit, so it might have happened on the road.”
It’s uncommon for racing drivers to talk about threat and the chance of death publicly.
Security is discussed each weekend at F1, but it within an abstract level – what do we do about this trap, or this obstruction?
Hubert’s death has brought it front and centre. Is it difficult is it to talk about it?
“Of course it is hard to deal with something that’s actual and has happened,” Ricciardo says,”but it does help to discuss it. Having the comfort of everyone else and being on the grid and talking to a number of the other drivers… yeah, it is not fun talking about it all, but it also will help relieve any emotions or feelings.
“I guess just knowing that you are in exactly the exact identical boat with someone else, knowing that you are not lonely feeling how you do, which helps.
“Being part of a team or a community. This has been the place you realise, there are rivalries or anything, but a competition on track doesn’t say how much we all have in common and how far we do actually care and feel for one another.
“It is hard but it will feel nice to find some of it off your chest”
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