Daniel Ricciardo: How Aussie was ‘thrown to the wolves’ in F1 as he sets McLaren challenge

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After celebrating his 10th anniversary as a Formula One driver last season during the 2020 British Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo now starts a new journey alongside Woking based-team McLaren this season, partnering the young Brit Lando Norris on the grid.

Ricciardo got his F1 break when he became Toro Rosso’s third driver for 2011, and made his full race debut at Silverstone as part of HRT, on loan from the Red Bull programme.

After being knocked out of qualifying in Q1, the Australian finished P19 in a race eventually won by Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari.

Now, at the age of 31 – Ricciardo has been reflecting on his first outing, admitting the experience was pretty overwhelming as a rookie.

“I remember my first race at Silverstone and I was trying to do too much,” Ricciardo said in a McLaren interview.

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“To be fair though, I was thrown to the wolves because I was only told a week beforehand that I’d be racing.

“I wore myself out trying to do too much. It wasn’t the perfect preparation. You’ve only got so many hours in a day and I was trying to take in as much information as I could in a short space of time.

“I was trying to be a hero when, really, the key was to just get the basics right.”

Formula One’s now fun-loving ‘Honey badger’ grew up idolising one of the greatest racing drivers of all time: Ayrton Senna, and admits being on the grid next to some legendary drivers back in 2011 was daunting at the time.

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He continued: “I think I was pretty overwhelmed by it all at first. I had watched F1 from a young age and then when I finally got there, mentally, I wasn’t prepared.

“You aspire to get to F1, so you kind of put it on a pedestal, but then you’re there on the grid with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso – guys I watched battle wheel-to-wheel when I was growing up – and suddenly you’ve got to race against them.

“I would definitely tell my younger self to relax – everyone’s started out from a similar point in karts and they’ve all had similar feelings when they were in your shoes.

“And then I would say to try to enjoy it as much as possible, don’t stress yourself out too much. By my third race I had built some confidence and started to believe that I belonged in F1, but for those first two races I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights.”

Ricciardo returned to the grid for Toro Rosso in 2012, teaming up with Jean-Eric Vergne, scoring his first F1 points on debut.

He stepped up to Red Bull in 2014 after fellow Aussie Mark Webber retired from racing in 2013.

His performance during 2014 was one of the talking points of the season, scoring his first F1 win in Canada and two more victories in Hungary and then Belgium. He finished in third in the drivers’ standings, ahead of his team-mate at the time, the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

He then left for Renault in 2019 before his switch to McLaren ahead of the 2021 season to partner Norris.

“In the debriefs we’ve been asking for the same sort of thing and that’s so important when you’re trying to drive a team forward – you want to be driving it in one direction rather than all over the place,” explained Riccardo.

“Even though Lando is a lot younger than me, he knows his stuff. This is his third year in F1, so he’s definitely not a rookie anymore; he’s got quite a bit of experience now and a good understanding of the car.”

Ricciardo heads into the new season with a complete new set up, however he has a clear goal where the future is heading at McLaren.

“I think it would be great to hold on to third place in the Constructors’ Championship,” said Ricciardo confidently.

“It’s going to be just as hard as last year to do that, if not harder, so we’re going to have to be on our A-game, but I feel like I have a lot of experience in the sport that can help the team to continue to move forward.

“And it’s not just about me, as I said, Lando has a good amount of experience too – he got his first podium last year – so I think as a driver line-up we bring a lot of positives to the team that can drive it forward.”

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