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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 author
Daniel Ricciardo went through exactly what could be described as a long, dark night of the spirit Saturday.
After the passing of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver moved back into his hotel and asked whether it was all worth it. The response didn’t come readily, but on Sunday the Australian raced at Spa in the long run.
Four days on, he sits down with BBC Sport at the onset of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, also delves deep into what it takes for a racing driver to confront his fears and race in such difficult conditions.
“I certainly challenged it,” the 30-year-old Australian claims. “The reality is, weirdly, I really do love it too much. Racing did believe right in the conclusion. Though I didn’t really need to, after I did this, it was just like, OK, that actually feels normal and right.”
For a long time over a weekend it felt anything but ordinary.
“When you are a kid and you see it on TV, and you are not present or not part of it,” Ricciardo says,”it still seems like there’s some form of distance, or a disconnection to what has happened.
“But if you’re there and it occurs to a few of your coworkers, or it’s in exactly the identical race, it sounds more real, and it is like:’OK, that actually can happen to anybody, and it is here, it’s present right now.’
“The realisation of us not being fine does put in. I understand my parents worry for me – you know, seeing me race and traveling the world and now being on a plane every few days. You simply question it: is it truly worth putting not just myself but family under precisely the identical quantity of pressure?”
The night of the accident, Ricciardo states, he”didn’t get much sleep, and so you are asking your questions, probably just fighting just a tiny piece with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you know?
“And then also fighting with a few of the emotions of should I really get up and race tomorrow? Is it the ideal thing to do ? Could it be the right thing?
“And I kind of did also 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 is to not race’
“I kind of wanted to play it by ear. Running through all these situations:’What if I feel? Imagine if that?’
“By Sunday morning, I had a little more clarity. I wake up preparing myself for race day and did manage to sleep a bit. But it felt bizarre and cold. It did not feel right to be excited to race to be more happy to know there. It felt tick off the moments, just and get the work done.
“The lead-up to the race, so I’d probably only describe it as not very fun in terms of only it had been tough to attempt to go through the motions and go through a routine when that has occurred less than 24 hours ago. And, you know, drivers’ parade and that, you are waving to fans, however you do not feel right grinning or being happy, I suppose.
“It was hard, just hoping to get into the zone, just hoping to get any form of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday wasn’t simple, but it was more of a sadness than a panic and I think it was important I found that. If I was getting in the vehicle with a pure amount of fear, then it wouldn’t have been smart for me to race. I did know that it was only a despair.”
“After we sort of got going, it actually felt like pretty great launch. It felt like a de-stress, simply racing and rival. Only going at those rates, it was just like flushing the system which felt good.
“After the racefor sure I was glad it was done but I did feel better than I did two hours prior to that.
“I’ll be honest, the race was fun. It was great to be out there. As far as I was excited about viewing the chequered flag, I did like a race Sunday.”
The race,” he states, acted as a kind of catharsis.
“When something happens, you have simply go to dip into it, and that’s the ideal means of beating it. And I think that is exactly what the race was for us. I told myself things too:’Only go fast as soon as possible. Leave on the pits and go, and try to get into that style already. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t locations.’
“I remember I got from these pits, drifted out, and forced myself to get in that mindset right away.”
This is really a reference to his ideas about going through Raidillon. It’s part of the Eau Rouge swerves, a left-hander over the brow of a mountain taken flat out in over 180mph.
“I told me :’Go whole throttle, and simply don’t over-think this corner, so do not over-think any of it.’ Out of the pits… maintained it full. It felt great to get out there and do this although that really was a relief. And that also told me I was prepared to go.
“I think if I had been, big lift and fearful, then that would be a sign that maybe I should not be on the track right now. I suppose I wanted to do that to check myself and it felt right.”
Did he talk to the drivers about it?
“I got to talk to a few. This season I just met Anthoine. The Renault Academy boys spent a lot of time and I saw them Sunday morning. I spoke to a couple of them as well, just over text.
“They had done training camps together. They’re a household. They’re younger as well. That’s where I believed I could attempt to be a tiny bit of, in certain ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. They were, although I was feeling it. We essentially gave all a kiss to each other on Sunday. We tried to chat over it a bit.
“And then with the other drivers, I spoke to a few of these, but before the race you can see everyone sort of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to get the motorist parade, we’re all just standing there. There were several handshakes or hugs however you could sort of tell everybody was just trying to prepare for the race and it turned out to be a tough one. Following the raceI talked to largely the French motorists, who I understood were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not. The previous 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 ] hit me quite difficult,” Ricciardo says. “In a way, not disrespecting it, I was very surprised how difficult it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit on me so hard and for it to survive – the sadness and the hurt from this extended over a period.
“With past weekend, you believe time kind of cures everything, and it was like, OK, nothing’s happened for a while and with great reason. The sport’s got safer and we’re in a great place. And then it happens. And it is a jolt.
“It’s an anger that it’s occurred again. We thought we’d moved on from this. It is when it’s refreshed on your head again and it’s there in front of you, it’s hard not to take it with difficulty.”
Has it changed his outlook ?
“Originally, it did change. Time does heal it. Those initial emotions that are extreme did gradually fizzle out.
“With the Jules one, I felt as if my goal and intent after that has been,’OK, if we’re likely to strap ourselves to those cars, and if we are all conscious of the danger, it does not make sense to head in half-heartedly. If we are going to do it, then go in, and allow it to be worthwhile.’
“I felt as though Jules’ passing sort of made me embrace the racer more so. And to be honest this will probably end up having the same effect.
“I did not have that kind of fear in the race. And before that fear steps in, I use it as a form of inspiration. However many years I really do it, I can say I did it correctly.”
It can be hard to understand the way the racing driver can compartmentalise their fears this manner, or the uniqueness of the kind of character required to perform a job that they know can kill them, but to go ahead and do it anyway because they love it so much that they can not stop.
Can Ricciardo clarify what causes F1 drivers ready to live with that contradiction?
He pauses for a few seconds.
“Really I get goosebumps,” he says,”because I don’t really understand how or why.
“On Saturday nightI felt in no position to drive a race car around exactly the identical track the following moment. But getting out of the pits and moving through Raidillon and that, it was bizarre how ordinary and natural it felt. And I can not explain that.
“It’s probably just once you’ve got a deep passion and love to get something, that is the outcome. I amazed myself, to be honest. And we did Sunday.
“I didn’t expect to like any part of the race, regardless of where I finished. However, I really did enjoy being out there, and that rush of hurrying. Yes, it was in your mind, of course. But how we are able to put it I can’t explain why or how. It does surprise me.”
Ricciardo is famous for his eponymous style, along with his attacking victories, frequently made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves in which he yells the car down the inside of a competition from an impossible distance back. How does the dangers be rationalised by him, on knowing that an injury is always a possibility carry?
“You have got to always control the controllables,” he says. “In my situation, I guess never become reckless.
“After the race or at times you will find me provide a driver the finger show my kind of anger. But I tried to teach myself to not allow the emotion take more than the driver in the race and get reckless, basically.
“Yes, I have tried some late overtakes in my time and I’ve done some moves which may appear risky, but there’s always a level of calculation and control in that and it’s never done only on emotion.
“So I’ll not let myself get irresponsible or put myself in a position I don’t need to be in. Yes, also be on that line that is fine and I’d like to take risks. But be sensible enough to not over-step it and that I think I am ready to do this.
“From this point of view, I am comfy hopping in the car. There’s obviously the thing of technical and failures stuff that can fail. That is an uncontrollable from my side. Can’t really consider those actually. And if you know they are there and current at times, as soon as you place on the helmet and get going, you do not think about doing it.
“It’s one of the things that if it occurs in the wrong place or the wrong corner, then what exactly can you? You have got to place that motive in mind that it could have happened on the way into the circuit, so it might have occurred on the street.”
It is for racing drivers to talk about the possibility of death so and danger publicly uncommon.
Safety is discussed every weekend at F1, but it is normally on an abstract level – what can we do about this trap, or this obstruction?
It has been brought front and center by hubert’s death. Is it hard is it to discuss it?
“Obviously it is hard to address something that is actual and has occurred,” Ricciardo states,”but it will help to discuss it. Having the comfort of everyone else and being on the grid and speaking to a number of the other drivers… yeah, it is not fun speaking about it, but in addition, it will help relieve any emotions or feelings.
“I guess just knowing that you are in exactly the identical boat with somebody else, realizing that you’re not alone feeling the way you do, which helps.
“Being part of a group or a community. This has been the place you realisethere are rivalries or anything, but a competition on track doesn’t express how much most of us have in common and how far we really do truly care and feel for each other.
“It is tough but it will feel nice to find some of it off your chest.”
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