INTERVIEW: Daniel Ricciardo – The next chapter

by James Eagles

Daniel Ricciardo takes a moment to think. On the eve of the Canadian Grand Prix in June, the Australian was asked by a local journalist about his sporting prowess and activities before he turned his full attention to motorsport and reaching Formula 1. “I was probably talking shit,” he assumes, laughing. “I think said I was curling world champion!”

Ricciardo’s character is as warm and loud as the vivid yellow hoodie he’s wearing at the Covent Garden launch of his new line of socks in collaboration with American clothing brand Stance. This interview took place less than an hour before the store’s doors were reopened to the public, giving fans a chance to see the Australian before he and the F1 roadshow returned to action – in what turned out to be a tragic weekend in Belgium. Renault F1 Team junior driver and rising FIA Formula 2 championship star Anthoine Hubert tragically lost his life in a frightening crash in the embryonic stage of Saturday’s Feature Race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. He was 22-years-old.

The whole ordeal left Ricciardo, and indeed the entire motorsport community, shaken. Ricciardo seemed to have a growing fondness for his Renault stablemate Hubert – and may well have been his team-mate or predecessor in time. Mercifully, catastrophic weekends like that are extremely rare in modern-day motorsport – but they can still happen, and drivers take the risk of death or career/life-altering injuries each time they are strapped into the car.

The latter of those two undesirable options poses any number of problems. It’s often the case that professional athletes can reach the end of their career, be it prematurely or scheduled, and suddenly find themselves asking the question: “What next?” The requisite time and effort to reach the top of their field can consume their formative years – social lives suffer in adolescence, maybe the innocent period of childhood is compromised too. Furthermore the ‘tunnel vision’ needed can hamper the formation of other aspirations as well as life and extraneous career skills, leaving some a little stuck once it’s time to say goodbye.

At the turn of July, Ricciardo reached 30. Arguably, that age marks the start of a driver’s peak – they are still in prime physical and mental shape, have a trace of the exuberance of youth but generally possess a calmer and more experienced head. In the right machinery that combination of attributes can prove to be frightening for the opposition, as Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have shown – winning the majority of their combined 12 (soon to be 13) F1 world championships in the fourth decade of their lives. Alain Prost even secured all four of his titles from ages 30 to 38, owing thanks to a more calculated driving style in an era of fragile car reliability mixed with bonkers 1000bhp + engines.

Daniel Ricciardo & Lewis Hamilton - Formula 1 - 2019 British GP
Three of Hamilton’s five world titles have come after the age of 30. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

But 30 can be a milestone that provokes a more pensive mood – time to start thinking about the long-term picture. Ricciardo firmly believes that once he hangs up his driving gloves, he will not follow Renault non-executive director Prost’s lead in staying hands-on in motorsport.

“Once I’ve burnt myself out from racing, I think I’ll want to step away,” he says. “Another thing is, I’ve always had other interests growing up. I love racing, but I grew up playing other sports too.

It’d be nice to step away from racing, after putting everything into it. Because then I could end that chapter and think, ‘Awesome, that part of my life is done’. So we’ll see what happens.

But, more than anything, I definitely have an interest to do something outside of that. Whether that’s in fashion or music, I don’t know.

I don’t see myself being tied down to this sport all my life. It’s certainly been my passion my whole life, but I’d love to do something else successful other than racing cars.

Hamilton’s partnership with fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger has breathed new life into F1 in the past year. The five-time champion’s life outside of the car has catapulted him to a global stardom previously unheard of. After the 1970s, the majority of ultra-successful F1 drivers have been viewed as reserved characters – keen to shut the curtains once away from the track. Mercedes AMG Motorsport‘s acceptance of Hamilton’s wishes to explore his other passions has had no ill-effect on track, in fact his performance seems to be reaching new peaks with each year; even if former team-mate, turned “new Jacques Villeneuve“, Nico Rosberg will tell you otherwise.

2019 marks the start of Ricciardo’s physical collaboration with Stance, as the brand looks to expand its name beyond the United States. For now, the Stance x Daniel Ricciardo collection comprises of two fetching pairs of socks. One is modelled on his bold new-for-2019 helmet design, something that proved to be a drastic and welcome breath of fresh air from a line of Red Bull-regulated and branded looks. After all, Ricciardo spent 10 years with the Red Bull Racing programme from junior formulas to the senior team before leaving for Renault at the start of ’19. This year has proved to be host to a number of new challenges for him.

Daniel Ricciardo Stance Collection
Credit: Stance

The other pair in the collection is an aqua and green number, equally as bright as his aforementioned personality. Ricciardo admits that he hasn’t given any thought to branching out to T-shirts and underwear with Stance at this point in time, but sees the potential. He is particularly enamoured with the underwear, indeed he sports the Wholester range inside the car, as it “keeps everything where it should be” in his view. But the socks, as comfortable as they are, do not conform to the FIA‘s strict rulebook on driver fashion and must be enjoyed away from average speeds of 200km/h and above.

“There are some potential options with clothing and underwear,” Ricciardo muses. “I’m really excited about the socks being released now, I was quite lucky to be able to have a crack at two designs.

Hopefully it can grow into more and more over the next few years. I think this is a good start and I hope everyone likes them; I’m certainly happy with how they turned out.

I asked him if he would be interested in following Hamilton in linking up with a world-renowned general fashion brand, or whether he would use his already existing RICCIARDO brand and his continuously growing stock outside of F1. The early episodes of the debut season of Netflix‘s fly-on-the-wall documentary Drive to Survive focussed heavily on Ricciardo’s decision to move away from Red Bull to Renault and, most importantly, gave people previously unmoved by F1 a chance to see him in a more personal light. His answer revolved around his need to be ensconced in the company he’s working with – something he feels he has achieved with Stance as a member of its Punks and Poets group.

Both scenarios could be quite cool. I think it all depends on how it’s presented and how passionate I am about getting involved with something, at the end of the day.

With Stance, I really enjoy what the company do and what the people inside the company are doing with their direction. So the personnel is a really big factor and consideration in dictating where I go.

One thing is for certain, a line of red-themed underwear is unlikely. He told a story about his mother, Grace, insisting that he wore red underwear and socks when he started out in karting at the age of nine.

“She thought they were lucky. But then I had a few bad races in a row and thought, ‘I’m getting rid of these’. So from the age of 12, I’ve been wearing whatever I want!”

Stance’s image is more similar to long-time energy drinks market leader Red Bull than the “very corporate” Groupe Renault. Maybe Ricciardo found the comfort he spoke about because of this, rediscovering a mindset and attitude that was familiar to him for a decade. Stance believes that it has created “a movement of art and self-expression that has drawn athletes, performers, and iconic cultural influencers to the brand” – this is a company that wants to be different and to be applauded for it.

Ricciardo elaborated on the juxtaposition, but did point out that he knew his move to Renault would bring about greater changes than just a different car. He joined the team at the start of the fourth year since its reformation as a works outfit. The cultural and performance differences from Year One (or 2016) are stark, but this was to be expected given the lateness of the reacquisition from Lotus in December ’15. Years two and three brought exponential progression and new design philosophies, the team breaking into the top four in F1 in ’18 through consistency in a tight midfield battle. But in order to make the next step and trouble F1’s distinct power trio, Renault’s pre-contract signing of Ricciardo back in August last year was a real statement of intent.

Ricciardo joined Renault after 5 seasons with Red Bull. Credit: Octane Photographic

In stark contrast, Ricciardo’s 2014 promotion to Red Bull from sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso brought a new set of challenges to the then 24-year-old. He was placed alongside reigning four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in a side that had also won the last four Constructors’ Championship titles. With that dominance, as Ricciardo said, comes a certain self-belief; Red Bull knew it was the king of the castle. However, Mercedes and Hamilton had other ideas and still haven’t relinquished their white-knuckle grip on F1’s modern era.

With typical grit and an ever-widening trademark smile, Ricciardo upset top dog Vettel by outperforming him – the German then forging a new path for himself at Scuderia Ferrari for ’15 and leaving Ricciardo as the new team leader. One could argue that the brash and youthful presence of Max Verstappen contributed to Ricciardo’s departure four years later.

“I certainly knew [the move to Renault] would be different,” Ricciardo acknowledges. “To what extent, I didn’t know.

I’d say [Red Bull] releases more expression. That’s how they differ. It’s more ‘freestyle’ with a lot of events and activities, while Renault is quite structured with, ‘we have to do this now at this time’. It’s just the nature of what the brands represent.

As far as team culture goes, I joined Red Bull when they were four-time champions – so they had that confidence and arrogance…whatever you want to call it. Like, ‘this is what we know’.

Coming into Renault, it’s been a while since they won, so you can tell that that level of intensity and confidence wasn’t quite at Red Bull’s 2014 level. But what you can see is that they are building on that and in three years they’ve improved a lot, so it’s now giving them the confidence that they can now be in amongst the top three teams.

So it is slowly coming around, but the results on track will dictate that more than anything. I’ve certainly seen improvements from Australia to now – Canada was one example of that. I qualified fourth and the team was ecstatic and excited, but there was also a feeling that we deserved to belong there. [Ricciardo finished sixth in the race.]

I don’t think that was there at the start of the year, so it was a nice transition.

A brilliant fourth place at the Italian Grand Prix on quasi-home turf for Ricciardo last Sunday also backed up that statement. For 2020, it’s all change again in the pursuit of success. Current team-mate and a key figure of Renault’s new era in F1, Nico Hülkenberg, is out in favour of ex-Racing Point F1 Team driver Esteban Ocon. That bombshell was dropped the day after this interview was conducted. I was curious to find out the similarities between Verstappen and Hülkenberg as team-mates, with both sharing Dutch blood.

The former’s battles with Ricciardo were well documented – and sometimes costly for Red Bull, as Hungary ’17 and Azerbaijan ’18 showed – but the relationship was sound enough to the public eye. The Hülkenberg/Ricciardo dynamic has not garnered that level of attention, unless something dramatic happens in the next three months.

“On-track I haven’t had that many battles with Nico yet, so as far as his level of aggression it’s hard to say,” Ricciardo admits. “Off-track they’re obviously both very competitive.

“I’d say Nico is a bit more laid back, but I’d put that down to him being in the sport longer and being more comfortable with it. Max is still fresh and the lights are on all the time.

“But, did they both want to kick my arse? For sure.”

To view the Daniel Ricciardo x Stance collaboration, please visit: https://stance.eu.com/collections/daniel-ricciardo

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