EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

Daniel Ricciardo’s sensational return to the F1 grid completes a remarkable six-month turnaround. But before he salvaged his career, Ricciardo needed to restore his confidence.  
EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

Last season, Ricciardo’s stock hit rock bottom. The 34-year-old Australian was released from his McLaren contract early following a bruising two-year spell. 

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Aside from claiming a memorable win at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix - McLaren’s first victory in a decade - Ricciardo’s stint at Woking was largely one of frustration and underwhelming performances. 

Ricciardo was in need of a reset and he found it in the form of a third driver role as back-up for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at Red Bull for 2023. 

After six months being fully integrated into the world championship-winning squad, Ricciardo, who admitted that “the last couple of years was a little bit humbling”, is refreshed and has rediscovered his love for F1. 

“I thought it would feel a bit more like, probably not to this extent, but probably a bit like a spare prick at a wedding,” Ricciardo told Crash.net in an exclusive interview at the British Grand Prix.

“A lot of people put it in my head that it would be scarier than it actually is. They were like ‘you can’t afford to take a year off’ and it’s ‘career suicide’. Not at all. 

"I think it’s given me a chance to slow down and find love again. I’m able to observe so much more now and as a race car driver you are just in it. 

“I see things a little bit from a different perspective and that’s really cool. I know [when] I go back racing, there’s just some things I’d do differently or some things that I’ll remain aware of now.”

EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

He continued: “This year has been one of the best years for me. I’ve actually enjoyed it a lot, personally. 

“I’ve done some things I’ve never had the time to do as a race car driver. I was at risk of becoming tired of the sport if I stayed in it if I was in a situation that maybe wasn’t perfect for me. 

“People see it. My friends and my family say ‘you look happy again, you look vibrant, you look like you’. And I feel like me.”

Upon his initial return to the team with which he took seven of his eight grand prix wins between 2014-2018, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said he “didn’t recognise” the driving habits Ricciardo had picked up during his struggles at McLaren. 

A fortnight ago in Austria, Horner declared that Ricciardo had “rediscovered his mojo” and had a “spring in his step”. 

EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

A seamless reunion with his former Red Bull race engineer Simon Rennie has been key to helping Ricciardo get back up to speed in the simulator. Now, Ricciardo feels “completely back to where I was” and “in a really good way”. 

"It’s a car [RB19] that I feel I can control, it’s a car I feel talks to me in a way I want to be talked to,” he explained. “I’m working with Simon, my engineer from Red Bull. All my sim work is with him. 

"Honestly it feels like the last four years [at McLaren and Renault], they happened - I’m not trying to eliminate the four years - I’m trying to say it’s like we never stopped working together. It’s been so seamless, the transition going back to the team. 

“It all felt really, really good. They’ve helped give me that support and comfort. Getting me to work with Simon made me feel ‘this is familiar’, it’s an engineer who I adored and had such a good relationship with. Everything has been set-up really well.”

Asked if he feels more support in the Red Bull family compared to his time at McLaren, Ricciardo said: “At McLaren, it wasn’t through lack of effort. We were all trying to figure it out. Obviously we couldn’t in the end get to it. But it wasn’t like they weren’t trying to help. 

“But I think no team has understood me like Red Bull has. Maybe that’s because they brought me up from juniors and they know me better than any team and have worked with me for so long. They were there for my rise, so to speak. 

“They do know me and I think they therefore are able to understand when I’m in my good place and what I need, the people around me and stuff. They get it.”

On Tuesday, Ricciardo got the chance to put the RB19 through its paces for real in a Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone, marking his first outing in a Red Bull F1 car in five years. 

EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

Ricciardo’s performance back in the cockpit of an F1 car impressed Red Bull, with his best lap time reportedly good enough for the front row of the grid at last weekend’s British Grand Prix. 

The official announcement of his surprising return to Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri, in place of Nyck de Vries - dropped only 10 races into his rookie F1 season - followed on Tuesday afternoon. 

Just four days earlier, Ricciardo had revealed to Crash.net that he would be willing to drive for AlphaTauri providing it created a path back to the senior team, which he previously admitted is his “fairytale” outcome. 

“The hunger’s still there and I don’t feel like I’m done,” he said. 

“Maybe this year I was going to feel in my heart that I don’t miss it, I don’t really care about it anymore, but I do. It’s still with a competitive urge. 

“It’s not just to be on the grid and be one of the 20 guys to say I’m an F1 driver. The only kind of way I would accept, let's call it a less competitive role, is if there's a vision of a more competitive role. 

“If I have to take one step back, so to speak, to go two forward [that’s okay]. I don’t want to be too stubborn and ignore that. I also know that the top seats - very, very, very few are available. 

“Maybe I do have to climb the ladder again. Honestly, do I feel I need to personally? I don’t. I feel if I was to jump in a top team now I would be able to kick off kind of where I left off. Maybe not 2022 but prior to that!”

There is no doubt in Ricciardo’s mind. He has unfinished business in F1 and wants to exorcise his McLaren demons. 

And he is now one step closer to making his dream Red Bull return a reality.

EXCLUSIVE: How Ricciardo rediscovered himself ahead of F1 return with AlphaTauri

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