If you’ve ever tried your hand at karting, the following experience may sound familiar.
Then, with cruel ease, another kart slips past on a straight. The driver swoops into the next curve and by the time you’re round it, they’re already out of sight.
For a racing driver, knowing the difference between the sensation of speed and actually being fast is everything. The maxim “it feels slow when it’s fast” is well-known. It’s certainly not an idea drivers are still learning when they reach Formula 1, much less when they are veterans with a decade of experience in the sport.
Yet this is exactly what McLaren having been telling Daniel Ricciardo during races – including more than once during this month’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
The team’s new driver had a difficult start to his third weekend in the car. He failed to progress beyond Q1 at Autodromo do Algarve and lined up 16th on grid.
His race went better. Ricciardo ran a long opening stint on the medium compound – the longest of anyone bar Sergio Perez – and emerged from his pit stop inside the top 10. He had a fast Fernando Alonso in pursuit, and the pair were closing on Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz Jnr.
He was urged on by race engineer Tom Stallard, who also reminded him of those words many younger karters know well:
|42||Stallard||Ricciardo leaves the pits|
Launch map off, launch map off, racing Gasly on exit.
|42||Ricciardo||You happy with strat four?|
|42||Stallard||Okay, for now, start four okay for now.|
|42||Stallard||Alonso has DRS, 0.9.|
|43||Stallard||And strat six, strat six.|
|44||Stallard||Strat seven, strat seven. Let’s go get Gasly.|
|44||Stallard||Turn five, remember left-hand toggle, turn five left-hand toggle.|
|44||Stallard||Gasly’s, just passing Mazepin. Mazepin pitted.|
|44||Stallard||You’ve got Gasly and Sainz is ahead of Gasly, he’s struggling with tyres.|
|45||Stallard||Just take care on the braking, don’t push the brakes too much through the entry.|
|45||Stallard||Remember, we want to make sure we get the early turn-in. Don’t over-push the braking. It feels slow when it’s fast.|
|47||Stallard||Good lap, faster than Gasly. Turn three, suggest right-hand-side toggle to [unclear] on entry.|
|48||Stallard||Ricciardo passes Gasly|
Yes! Next car’s Sainz. Sainz has been struggling.
|48||Stallard||Sainz last lap, 1’22.9.|
|49||Stallard||Okay Alonso currently 1.3.|
|49||Stallard||Alonso may have DRS.|
|49||Stallard||Alonso passes Ricciardo|
Okay stay with him, we need to go and use him to get Sainz.
|52||Stallard||We’ve had a warning from the FIA, turn 14 exit, don’t run too wide.|
|52||Stallard||That’s another good lap. Daniel.|
|54||Stallard||Good lap. Gasly lost DRS.|
|55||Stallard||Alonso is going to get Sainz soon. That’s your chance.|
|57||Stallard||Purple C9, position five, C9, five.|
|58||Stallard||Consider right-hand-side toggle, turn 11, stability.|
|58||Stallard||Alonso passes Sainz|
Ahead is Sainz, now let’s go get him.
|58||Stallard||Latifi and Schumacher are now ahead of Alonso, they’ll have blue flags.|
|59||Stallard||Seven laps to go, gap to Sainz, 1.7.|
|61||Stallard||Four tenths faster that lap, good job.|
|62||Stallard||Quarter of a second faster again, 1.1 now.|
|64||Stallard||Ricciardo passes Sainz|
Okay mate two laps to go. Let’s keep it clean now. It feels slow when it’s fast.
|65||Stallard||Gasly passes Sainz|
Gasly’s the car behind 1.6.
|65||Stallard||This is the last lap. This is the last lap.|
|66||Ricciardo||Ricciardo rounds the last corner and takes the chequered flag in ninth place|
Okay. That was a good comeback guys, good comeback, thank you.
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Ricciardo is one of several experienced drivers at new teams this year who is having to adapt to an unfamiliar car. This ‘back to basics’ approach – in his 191st grand prix – underlines what a fundamental change he is adjusting to.
“When you’re wrestling the car, braking late, getting on the throttle and fighting it, sometimes you just scrub off speed,” he explained to RaceFans. “Being more clean and keeping momentum in some corners is meaning it faster.
“It doesn’t always feel fast but you look at the lap time and it’s like ‘oh, okay…’ So you think it makes it easier to drive it faster but you always just want to brake later if you think you can brake later.”
He admitted it may seem strange to hear a Formula 1 veteran, who participated in his 200th grand prix last weekend, being given such a basic piece of driving advice. “You’d think by all these years driving, you’d just know what works and what doesn’t.”
Of course, it isn’t just the variations from car to car he must adapt to, but also the year-on-year performance developments which require all drivers to be totally flexible in how they work the wheel. Sometimes familiar corners require new approaches: Is it quicker to turn in early and carry plenty of entry speed, or to get the car slowed, crank on the maximum steering angle, and fire it out of the corner?
“If I was to watch an onboard of Barcelona three or four years ago, even the lines are a bit different,” Ricciardo explains.
“There’s approaches to corners where you can like ‘V’ the corner – brake late, get it turned and get out. And maybe with like an old-spec car that worked. But now it’s all about momentum, the way the aero packages are.”
His move to McLaren has reinforced the need to keep scrutinising his driving style for potential improvements.
“You do have to adapt,” says Ricciardo. “That’s why you can’t always rely on ‘I used to be good’ or ‘I used to be fast at this track’ because you’ve got to be pretty open-minded and sometimes it does test your… I don’t know if it’s pride, but just your intuition and your experience. But you’ve got to go to stay open-minded and experiment.”
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