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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer
Daniel Ricciardo went through what might best be described as a dark night of the soul last Saturday.
Following the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver moved back into his hotel and asked whether it was worth it. The answer didn’t come readily, but on Sunday the Australian raced in the long run.
Four days , he sits with BBC Sport at the start of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, also delves deep into what it takes to get a racing driver to face his fears and race on in such difficult circumstances.
“I definitely challenged it,” that the 30-year-old Australian states. “The reality is, weirdly, I do love it too much. Racing did feel in the conclusion. Despite the fact that I didn’t really need to, after I did it, it was like, OK, this really feels normal and right.”
For a very long time over last weekend it felt anything but normal.
“When you are a kid and you watch it on TV, and you’re not current or not a part of it,” Ricciardo states,”it still seems like there’s some kind of space, or a disconnection to what has occurred.
“But if you are there and it happens to a few of your coworkers, also it is in precisely the same race, it sounds real, and it is like:’OK, this really can happen to anybody, and it’s here, it’s current today.’
“The realisation of us not being fine does set in. I understand my parents worry for me – you know, watching me race and travel the entire world and now being on a plane. You simply question it: is it really worth putting not only myself but family below the exact identical amount of pressure?”
The night of the collision, Ricciardo states, he”didn’t get much sleep, and so you’re asking yourself questions, probably only fighting a tiny piece with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you know?
“And also fighting with a few of the emotions of should I really get up and race everywhere? Is it the perfect thing to do ? Could it be the right thing to do for me?
“And I sort of did also think:’Let’s see how I feel by lunchtime, and when I am still having some doubts then possibly the safest thing for me is to not race.’
“I sort of wanted to play it by ear. Working through all these situations:’What should I feel like this? Imagine if this?’
“By Sunday morningI had a bit more clarity. I did manage to sleep just a bit and wake up preparing myself for race day. However, it felt weird and cold. It did not feel right to become excited to race to be delighted to know there. It felt tick off the minutes just like and find the work done.
“The lead-up to the race, so I would probably only describe it as not very fun in terms of only it had been tough to try and go through the moves and go through a routine when that’s occurred less than 24 hours ago. Additionally, you know, drivers’ parade and that, you are waving to fans, however you do not feel right smiling or being happy, I guess.
“It was difficult, just hoping to get into the zone, just trying to come across any kind of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday was not effortless, but it had been more of a despair than a panic and I believe it was important I found that. If I was getting in the car using a pure degree of dread, then it would not have been smart for me to race. I did understand that it was only a despair.”
“Once we kind of got moving, it felt like pretty good launch. It felt like a de-stress, just rival and racing. It had been just like flushing out the system which felt great, just going at those rates.
“After the race, for sure I was glad that it was done but I’d feel much better than I did two hours prior to that.
“I’ll be honest, the race was fun. It was great to be outside. As far as I had been looking forward to viewing the chequered flag, I’d like a pure race Sunday.”
The race,” he says, acted as a kind of catharsis.
“When something happens, you’ve just go to dive into it, and that’s the best method of beating it. And I believe that’s exactly what the race was for us. I told myself little things’Just go quickly whenever possible. Leave on the pits and go, and attempt to enter that mode already. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t locations on the track.’
“I remember I got out of these pits, drifted out, and forced myself to get into that mindset right away.”
That is a reference to his ideas about moving throughout Raidillon, where Hubert needed his crash. It is part of the infamous Eau Rouge swerves, also a left-hander over the brow of a mountain taken flat out at more than 180mph.
“I told myself’Go complete throttle, and just don’t over-think this corner, so do not over-think it.’ From the pits… held it full. That was a relief but it felt great to get out there and do this. And that also told me that I was ready to go.
“I believe if I had been, large lift and scared, then that would be a sign that maybe I shouldn’t be on the track at the moment. I suppose I wanted to do that to test myself and it felt right.”
Can he speak to the drivers about it?
“I got to talk to some few. I met Anthoine this season. The Renault Academy boys clearly spent a lot of time and that I saw them Sunday morning. I spoke to a few of these as well text.
“They had completed training camps collectively. They are a family. They’re younger. That’s where I felt I could attempt to be a little bit of, even in certain ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. I had been feeling it, but they had been more so. We essentially gave all a hug to each other on Sunday morning. We tried to talk over it a bit.
“And with the other motorists, I talked to some of these, but before the race you could see everybody kind of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to the driver parade, we were all just standing there. There really are several handshakes or hugs however, you could kind of tell everyone was just trying to get ready for the race and it was a demanding one. After the raceI talked to mainly the French motorists, who I understood were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not. The F1 driver was the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in a crash. Ricciardo had come up through the ranks and they had been close friends.
“Jules’ [death] hit me really hard,” Ricciardo says. “In a way, maybe not disrespecting it, I was really amazed how hard it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit me hard and for it to survive – the damage and the despair from that extended over some period.
“With this weekend, you think time type of remedies everything, and it was like, OK, nothing’s happened for a little while and with great reason. The sport’s got safer and we’re in a place that was fantastic. And then it occurs. And it is a jolt.
“It’s an anger that it’s occurred again. We thought we had moved on from this. It is when it is refreshed in your mind again and it’s there in front of you, it is hard not to take it with difficulty.”
Has it changed his view?
“Originally, it did change. Time does cure it. Those emotions that are extreme did slowly fizzle out.
“With the Jules one, I felt as though my goal and intent then has been,’OK, if we’re likely to strap ourselves into these cars, and if we are all aware of the risk, it does not make sense to go in half-heartedly. If we’re going to do it, go in, and make it rewarding.’
“I felt just like Jules’ passing kind of made me embrace the racer more so. And to be honest that this will wind up having the same effect.
“I didn’t have that type of fear from the race. And until that fear steps in, I use it as a kind of motivation. However a long time I do it, I can say I did it right.”
It can be tough to understand how a racing driver can compartmentalise their anxieties in this way, or so the uniqueness of the sort of character needed to do a job that they know can kill thembut to go ahead and do it anyway since they appreciate it so much that they can’t stop.
Can Ricciardo explain what makes F1 drivers ready to survive with that contradiction?
He pauses for a few seconds.
“Actually I get goosebumps,” he states,”since I do not really understand why or how.
“On Saturday night, I felt in no place to drive a race car on exactly the same track the following moment. But even getting out of the pits and going through Raidillon and that, it was bizarre how normal and natural that it felt. And I can not explain that.
“It is probably just when you have a deep passion and love to get something, that’s the result. I amazed myself, to be honest. And we probably all did on Sunday.
“I did not expect to like any portion of the race, so regardless of where I finished. However, I did that rush of hurrying, and enjoy being out there. Yes, it had been still in mind, needless to say. But how we are ready to place it I can’t explain how or why. It does surprise me.”
Ricciardo is famous for his eponymous style, along with his attacking victories, often made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves in which he yells the car down the interior of an opponent from an impossible distance back. How does he rationalise the dangers, on knowing that an accident is always a possibility carry?
“You’ve got to at all times control the controllables,” he states. “In my own case, I guess never find reckless.
“After the race at times you may see me provide a driver the finger show my kind of anger. However, I tried to teach myself to not let the emotion take over the driver in the race and become reckless.
“Yes, I have tried some overdue overtakes in my own time and I’ve done some motions that might appear risky, but there’s always a level of control and calculation in that and it’s never done purely on emotion.
“So I will not let myself get reckless or place myself in a place I do not have to be in. Yes, I want to take risks and also be on that line. But be sensible enough to not over-step it and that I think I’m ready to do that.
“From this point of view, I’m comfy hopping in the car. There’s obviously the thing of stuff and failures that could go wrong. That’s an uncontrollable from my own side. Can not really consider those. And even in the event you know they’re there and current at times, as soon as you get going and put the helmet on, you do not think about doing it.
“It is one of the things that when it happens in the incorrect place or the incorrect corner, then what exactly can you? You have got to place that motive in your head that it might have happened on the way to the circuit, so it might have happened on the road.”
It is for racing drivers to talk about the chance of death and threat openly rare.
Safety is discussed every weekend at F1, but it on an abstract level – everything do people do about this trap, or that barrier?
The death of hubert has brought it front and centre. Is it hard is it to talk about it?
“Obviously it is difficult to deal with something that is genuine and has happened,” Ricciardo states,”however, it will help to discuss it. Having the comfort of everybody else last weekend and being around the grid and speaking to a number of the other drivers… yeah, it is not fun talking about it all, but in addition, it will help relieve any emotions or feelings.
“I guess just knowing that you’re in the identical boat with someone else, realizing that you are not alone feeling the way you do, which helps.
“So being part of a group or a community. This was in which you realisethere are rivalries or anything, but a rivalry on course does not say how much most of us have in common and how far we really do really feel and care for each other.
“It is hard but it does feel nice to find some of it off your chest”
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