Daniel Ricciardo is a hungry young man. Upon greeting the 22-year-old Australian at the ISR motorhome at Silverstone following his second place in the sprint race in Formula Renault 3.5, Riccardo is keen for a much needed appetizer. A ham and cheese sandwich is his preferred snack for the afternoon, but not before he has made his slightly nervous interviewee a little more comfortable.
“Can I get you a drink mate?” he asks with his distinctive grin. He offers me a Red Bull, which is perhaps unsurprising given their firm backing of him throughout his motor racing career to date. His harm and politeness is immediately noticeable, given that the attention on Ricciardo has grown substantially since the beginning of 2011.
He has combined his duties driving for ISR in Formula Renault 3.5 with the reserve driver role at Toro Rosso, before being given a race seat at HRT for the remainder of the year in place of Narain Karthikeyan at Silverstone the previous month. Despite competing in two different categories for much of the year, Riccardo has adapted seamlessly.
He said: “I think that because this [ISR car] is quite roomy, I mean I can basically sit like I should, it is unlike most formula cars where you are lying down quite a bit and you're very low in the car.
“With the F1 cars that I have driven this year, such as the Toro Rosso and the HRT, they're a little bit smaller so I have to sit a little more upright. I guess it is like driving in your car and then maybe winding your seat back, so it is a bit weird to get used to that.
“By the first practice in either category you are more or less dialed into it. After the first few laps you do think 'this could take a while' but soon enough I've always managed to get on top of it.
“In the three F1 races that I have done, each has been significantly better. My pace has been better and the way I have managed the race has been better so I think that I am definitely learning. I don't think I'm where I need to be, or where I want to be at this stage, but for how much I've done I think it's a pretty good base to push on from.”
Looking around me, it is clear just how important Red Bull's influence has been on the young Australian. The company's iconic logo is emblazoned across the ISR motorhome, while Ricciardo is also wearing a Red Bull sponsored hoody. Their unprecedented development of young talent culminated in Sebastian Vettel winning the F1 world championship last season and it is a level Red Bull's other young protÃ©gÃ©s must aspire to.
Their sufficient backing is entwined with a huge pressure to get results; if you cannot win titles in lower categories, what chance do you have competing in the pinnacle of motor sport? Ricciardo, the 2009 British F3 champion, is only too thankful for their involvement in his career but is aware of the demands of Dr. Helmut Marko's development programme. “They have been very important,” says Ricciardo.
“I don't want to sound like all the other Red Bull guys but it is true that I do not think I'd be where I am without them. I definitely could not have done it with just my Dad's support and a couple of sponsors from back home. Even though it helped in my early days, talking about F1 is a whole new world and they have really made F1 possible.
“There is always a lot of pressure and I think maybe with Red Bull there is a little bit more. However, I think even in the early days it was probably the same story when my Dad was just funding me. I knew there was pressure to try and get results otherwise no one would pick me up and I wouldn't be able to race so there is always a bit of pressure but I think now at this level there is a bit more.
“Having a bit more media attention, along with more people watching you, means you do feel a bit more pressure, but it is more outside of the car to be honest with you; seeing all the cameras and people interviewing you makes you realize how big it is. In the car it doesn't change.”
Many anticipated that Ricciardo's inevitable F1 bow would take place in one of the Red Bull sponsored cars. Yet it was met with some surprise when HRT announced that the Australian would make his debut at Silverstone earlier this year. As Red Bull would be paying for his seat it seemed a no-brainer, but with Ricciardo driving one of the slowest cars on the grid it would be incredibly difficult for him to express his evident talents behind the wheel.
Given that he has competed at the front of the field for the majority of his career, one must consider how a driver gets used to becoming a back-marker. While accepting the challenges in driving for HRT, Ricciardo is adamant that it is not all negative and he has plenty of aspirations for the remainder of 2011.
“My aim is to firstly try and out-qualify Tonio and then maybe get ahead of the two Virgins. It would be a good achievement if we could qualify ahead of my team mate and the two Virgins or finish the races in front of them.”
“It's not as pleasant, lets say, when you are not fighting for a victory but its okay. We've got our own race between my team mate and the Virgins and we are always trying to have our own little battles. If you're trying to compare yourself against someone then it is okay.”
As a veteran of just three Grand Prix, Ricciardo is still classed as a relative newcomer in the F1 paddock. Yet he seems to have taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water and acknowledges that while there are additional pressures, there is still a job to do.
“It is different. Everything is so organized and I'm not used to people saying 'come here, come here' and then they are holding my helmet or doing this or doing that. You do get used to it, though. At first it is a bit of a headache because you are very busy and you are thinking 'how am I going to do all of this?'
“You've got this interview, you've got that interview, that photo-shoot and then you've got to drive the car. I think then, once you've done it a few times, you realize that it is very organized and they're very strict on time schedules so if you follow it, which they make sure you do, then you have got enough time to do what you have got to do.”
Although racing for HRT for the remaining eight races of the season, bar the Indian Grand Prix, Ricciardo may be casting one eye on the future and what plans Red Bull have for him from 2012. Ironically, he may even take the seat of his fellow countryman Mark Webber in the coming years. Asked whether Webber is idolized inside the Ricciardo household, his charisma oozes through once more.
“Not really – I don't have his face pictured in my bedroom or anything! But no he has definitely made F1 bigger in Australia over the last few years since he has been there. It is constantly growing and I think now I've come in at a good time and its just going to keep getting better. He has definitely helped out. I'd love to win a race and fight for a championship like he has.”
Ricciardo's sandwich has arrived; therefore, with time of the essence, it is time for one final question.
In five years time the Australian will be 27 and entering his peak years as a racing driver, so where does he see himself in 2016?
“I'd love to be fighting for a world championship. I definitely see myself still in F1 and if I am in a team to fight for the championship I think that is pretty good.”
I offer my hand and a thank you, for Ricciardo has been a pleasure to interview, but it appears he is not ready to conclude our meeting just yet.
“I was just going to say, I'll win a championship and then I'll retire and just lay by the beach!”
In spite of his chuckle and trademark smile, I do not doubt the sincerity in his answer in the slightest.
For Ricciardo, a keen punk-music enthusiast, is going to be a headline act for many years to come.