In a sport where both fans and competitors regularly take things far too seriously, Daniel Ricciardo is a breath of fresh air.
The affable Australian, who currently races with McLaren, is just as loved for his personality as he is for his his driving. His great sense of humour and sunny disposition is contrasted only by his ferocity on the track, a striking contrast that’s lead to his nickname of ‘The Honey Badger’.
Despite returning to his race-winning ways in 2021 during his first season with McLaren with a spectacular win at the Italian Grand Prix, many question marks still remain about his talent coming into 2022. After struggling to wrap his head around his MCL35M car last year and getting outperformed by his younger teammate, Britain’s Lando Norris, many commentators have suggested that Ricciardo might be over the hill.
That might be a bit of a premature conclusion to make, and one that Ricciardo’s fans would rankle at. A recent interview, however, might give his supporters some insight into, and hope for, his 2022 game plan – while at the same time potentially hinting at a deficiency that might explain Ricciardo’s teething issues.
Ricciardo was a guest on action filmmaker Jase Macalpine’s Gypsy Tales podcast, where the pair shared a wide-ranging chat about F1, life and Ricciardo’s personal growth. Something they touched on was the fact that Ricciardo – like many modern F1 drivers – isn’t particularly techincally minded about the cars he drives, but actually, Ricciardo views that as a positive.
“It’s funny because my mates will say ‘dude, you’re driving these multi-million dollar cars with the most technology, the most advanced machinery, pretty much, in the world and yet you might not know how to change a spark plug…but I like that,” Ricciardo explains.
“I like not really knowing a whole lot. I like investing more of my energy into the driving and I like just being a little bit blase about it all. It makes me approach it with a bit more of a carefree attitude and I think that helps me drive better, perform better and take the pressure off it.”
It’s an interesting take for sure, and one we can understand. At the end of the day, Ricciardo isn’t employed by McLaren to be an engineer or mechanic. He’s employed as a driver. It makes sense for him to focus on driving. Yet this lack of technical aptitude or interest; this more carefree approach to being an F1 driver, could also be the X factor he’s missing.
Many of the most successful F1 drivers of all time – like Niki Lauda, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – were exceptionally technically-minded, working closely with their engineers and even on their own cars. Australia’s greatest F1 champ, Jack Brabham, was also a technical whiz, and remains the only driver to ever win a World Championship in one of his own cars.
Even Ricciardo’s own teammate, Lando Norris, has demonstrated an aptitude and willingness to work on his own car, notably being spotted helping his team dismantle his car after the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix. Could Norris’ more technical mind and less ‘carefree’ attitude to his job be the reason why the young gun seems to be getting the best of his more experienced teammate?
Again, that might be a premature conclusion to come to; too long of a bow to draw. Norris is undoubtedly a very talented driver but it’s probably not because he picks up a spanner every now and again, or at least, not just because.
Ricciardo also emphasised during the podcast that while he might not be the most technically minded, he still plays an active role in the development of the car. “Where I’m good with my driving? Feedback. I think I’m really good at feeling what the car does and relaying that back to the team.”
Ultimately, it’s Ricciardo’s job to get the best out of his car by any means necessary. If he feels that staying away from the more technical nitty-gritty of his car helps him focus as a driver, that’s entirely his perogative. Indeed, drivers are often criticised for focusing too much on data and technical information and not just, you know, driving.
Does it demonstrate a lack of committment to his job? Quite the opposite, really. Sure, it probably doesn’t do him any favours to come out and say that he “likes not knowing a lot” but at least he’s being forthcoming and honest.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. 2022 brings with it a whole suite of new regulations and dramatically different cars – it’s a clean slate. After struggling with the 2021 car, Ricciardo might be able to succeed with the 2022 car, particularly on 2022’s more level playing field.
The 2022 Formula One World Championship kicks off in just over two months time with the Bahrain Grand Prix on the 18–20th of March.