Ricciardo exclusive: I got back in the sim and thought: “Have I lost it?”


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That winning smile has finally returned.

Through the most challenging 24 months of his Formula 1 career, Daniel Ricciardo never lost his natural charm or joie de vivre. But by the end of 2022, it was evident that the persistent poor results – and endless questions about them – had taken a heavy toll on one of the sport’s most popular personalities.

Justifiably cast adrift by McLaren, Ricciardo was not treading water for long. Almost immediately, he was scooped up by Red Bull – the same team he had left behind for greener pastures – and embraced by his first F1 family once again, slotting neatly back into the fold as third driver.

Whether it’s rediscovering his sense of belonging, or the stunning sunshine of the Cote d’Azure, Ricciardo seems fully back to his radiant self when RaceFans caught up with the eight-times grand prix winner on the Red Bull ‘floaterhome’. But how does he feel being back in the paddock without any of the stresses that comes with racing?

“Less weird than I thought!,” he laughs. “For sure there was a little bit of… how do I say it… apprehension? Am I just going to feel like the kid that’s returning to his school prom a year later or something – you know what I mean? It’s like, ‘okay dude, you’ve been here before’.”

“I was honestly just not my happy self”
“I think what’s really made it feel better is coming back here. And people will say, ‘oh, he has to say that because he’s back with Red Bull’, but truly that has felt so much warmer than even I thought it would have been. So I think that’s given me so much more comfort being back here in this environment.”

Ricciardo ended a 12-year stint as a race driver in Formula 1 with the worst season-long performance of his career in 2022. One glorious Sunday in Monza aside, Ricciardo’s two seasons at McLaren were defined by his absolute absence of pace relative to team mate Lando Norris with no real explanation as to how the eight-times grand prix winner had seemingly lost his touch.

As a racing driver, there is little more soul destroying as losing your speed and your confidence for no discernible reason, no matter how many hours are spent scouring telemetry and data to determine why. Ricciardo candidly confirms that the challenges of his time at McLaren ultimately took a physical toll on him as well as an emotional one.

“I don’t want to like go too far and be like, ‘yeah, I was depressed’ or whatever,” he says, “but I certainly wasn’t always eating as much.

“I think I just wasn’t feeling right. I was honestly just not like my happy self, not my normal self. I think as well so much was going on last year, I could feel like I had this kind of nervous energy inside me. I didn’t have an appetite as much. I was just a bit scattered. So yeah, there was certainly like some of that. So I was a little thin.”

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In a sport where drivers are often at pains to give little away, avoid saying anything controversial or self-aggrandising, Ricciardo’s authenticity remains as refreshing as ever. As much as he is clearly enjoying not having to deal with the day-to-day pressures of being one of the 20 drivers on the Formula 1 grid, he also admits he already feels eager to get back into that exclusive club.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2022
The trademark grin wore thin during two tough years at McLaren
“It’s put me in a really good place where, so far, I’m getting exactly what I wanted out of this year,” he says. “I’m getting enough of a break where I feel certainly refreshed and happy again. But it’s kind of also reminded of me how cool this environment was and what it’s like to be in a place that I feel I can hopefully get back to a podium.”

Had he really wanted to, Ricciardo could have been back on the grid this season. There were teams towards the rear of the field who would have happily gambled on the question marks over his pace for his experience and marketability. But the 33-year-old says it should have been obvious to him that Red Bull would be the only place where would feel as content as he does.

“Before it all, I was maybe surprised,” he explains. “But then when I got here also saw so many familiar faces and how warm they were towards me and how happy they were to have me back in the family – unless they were lying to my face – that made me not surprised.

“I was like, ‘what was I thinking?’ Of course. This really is the place that gave me everything, so I was very quickly not surprised.”

But his third driver role involves many hours in the Red Bull simulator. After Ricciardo spent his first working day back at the Milton Keynes factory, team principal Christian Horner raised eyebrows by suggesting he had exhibited some unexpected “habits” in his simulator driving – a possible legacy from his time at McLaren.

“Obviously I can’t talk in detail on sims, because it’s a bit of a sensitive topic,” he explains, “but every team’s sim is a little bit different. So there’s adjusting to the actual car – which obviously every team has a different car – but also the sim is different across teams, so there’s also a bit of adjusting to the sim.

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“The first day at Red Bull when I got back in, I was trying to obviously adjust to that car but also the sim. It definitely took me more laps than I wanted at first and I think that’s it was probably looking like, ‘oh, he’s driving different’ or ‘he’s got weird habits’ or whatever.”

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Ricciardo is looking on from the Red Bull garage this year
But through his time in the simulator – and the help of an old friend – Ricciardo says he is already starting to rebuild some of the confidence he lost behind the wheel.

“I think that it was when I was there that first day that I realised I’d lost some confidence in myself,” he admits.

“I know last year my results weren’t good, so of course I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m probably not as confident as I could be’. But you’re so in it that you don’t really realise truly how you are or how you’re viewing yourself. When I got to their sim, I felt a bit nervous. So it made me realise that it had taken a hit on my confidence.

“But then, on the flip side, the second half of the day then went really well. Now I feel like it’s been like I never left. And that’s really nice. I’ve got Simon [Rennie] who was my engineer – he runs the sim. So we’re at a really good place now.

Despite his absence, Ricciardo remains hugely popular
“But for sure, the first couple of hours, I was still like ‘oh fuck… have I lost it?’. But we recovered. I’m actually really enjoying it. To a point where Simon’s like ‘alright mate, you can stop now’ and I’m like, ‘one more lap!’.”

Naturally, getting back into a rhythm in a virtual F1 car has got Ricciardo itching to get back into a real one. He’ll get an opportunity in July with a Pirelli tyre test, but a return to racing is what he truly desires. However, he is careful about getting too ahead of himself and not making any rash decisions just to get himself back on the grid.

“Obviously, I know what the last few years felt like, and I guess I just want to be careful not to jump back into that and just think that a year off is going to cure everything,” he stresses. “I think it’s certainly going to cure a lot of me, but that’s why I don’t want to just get too excited and think ‘yes, let’s do it’, because I miss the limelight and I miss being on Drive to Survive.

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“I’m very open-minded and I appreciate that, as good as I feel right now, I’m not going to have every option available – I might not even have an option available. Obviously, I hope I do, but I don’t want to be too narrow-minded, because maybe those options aren’t there.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back”
“But in saying that, as I want to be back, I don’t want to be back at all costs. I don’t want to just be on the grid to be on the grid. I don’t want to be with a team that I don’t feel like I can get the car into a good position. I definitely want to be in a place where I feel I can thrive, but also if I can’t get straight to the top, I want to try to be in a place that could get me back to the top.”

But while he is clearly enjoying himself back at Red Bull and is still the same Daniel Ricciardo as he always has been, the one thing that is impossible to ignore talking to him is just how determined and convinced he is that he still has unfinished business in Formula 1.

“By the end of last year, I was not sure if I would want to come back,” he explains. “I was very open-minded to, ‘okay, maybe I spend Christmas at home and I’m like yeah, I’m happy with this life now, I’m going to go and pursue something else’. But I knew probably already in March that I don’t feel done, I don’t feel retired.

“I think as well there’s a part of me – and this might sound like ego, but it’s certainly not – I don’t want my book to close that way. I don’t really care too much about legacy, but I feel like it’s not the way that I should go out and I feel like I can still give more. So if I get the right opportunity, of course I would love to do that.”

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“If I can’t get straight to the top, I want to try to be in a place that could get me back to the top”

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...
Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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36 comments on “Ricciardo exclusive: I got back in the sim and thought: “Have I lost it?””

  1. Good to see Daniel being in a good place with himself. And let’s see whether he gets back into a race seat and where and how he will do (or not)

  2. As I suspected, his mindset is still the same, i.e., he doesn’t want to return for merely making up the numbers, effectively ruling out all teams below the top 4 at maximum.
    Even all lower teams seem equally unrealistic options for him, given their clear medium-term driver plans, etc., not to mention one of them has Seidl in a leading position.

    1. It’s a pretty big claim, especially since Ricciardo has never been in title contention. Yet somehow that is now the standard? Seems a bit much.

      He’s not going to win at Red Bull so long as Verstappen is there. Aston Martin has two long term drivers. Mercedes has two better drivers, and Ferrari has never shown any interest (as Ricciardo himself once admitted).

      As it stands, he either “makes up the numbers”, or he won’t be in F1.

      1. More likely the latter scenario option because I doubt he’d change his mind.

        1. Probably, and it’s fair enough. He has more money than any sensible person could spend, and if he wants to race again there are plenty of other series that offer drivers much better opportunities to be competitive than F1.

          It just looks a bit odd that a guy who has performed very badly for multiple years, even against a driver who was ‘only’ more or less matching Sainz while together at McLaren, is openly speculates about commanding a top seat in F1 without any pushback from the people interviewing him. Fair play if he pulls it off, but it seems a long shot.

      2. Can’t hep feeling Ricciardo standing was built on the back of solidly beating Vettel, who has subsequently been shown to be not quite as good as his results might suggest. Equally Norris seems to be better than anyone ever thought – I’m not seeing him being given a lesson by Piastri [early days I appreciate].

        Perhaps not such a surprise therefore about how it went at McLaren in 2021 and 2022

        1. I don’t think norris is better than anyone ever thought, since there’s people who considered him verstappen’s equal already in his early days.

      3. I think he could potentially go to aston martin in the future and do what alonso is doing now, give or take: show the potential of the car and destroy stroll, after all alonso is old and could retire soon, but ricciardo is also not very young, so I doubt he can wait several years before rejoining the grid; he could also replace hamilton once he retires, I think a ricciardo-russel pairing would be one of the strongest on the grid as well if he can perform like he did at red bull.

  3. Sergey Martyn
    31st May 2023, 13:01

    He drank too much shoeys – that’s the reason…

    1. Sergey Martyn
      31st May 2023, 13:03

      …the reason why he lost it.

  4. Keep acting as if this perennial underperformer has any relevancy to Formula 1.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      31st May 2023, 13:24

      @proesterchen you and Helmut Marko are positive chaps, aren’t you?

      1. I don’t know Dr Marko personally, but imagine his opinion of one Daniel Ricciardo to be more positive than mine, even if it’s not high enough to put said Daniel Ricciardo in any of the 3 1/2 seats he controls in Formula 1.

      2. @freelittlebirds it seems that the only pleasure that poster seems to get in life is from criticising others. When he’s not complaining about how he thinks all the drivers are useless, it’s attacking a circuit for being boring, having a go at whichever team he’s taken offence at for merely existing, or decided to spread his bile into other areas and criticising other racing series simply because he can.

        There seems to be nothing that he considers worthy of any sort of positive comment – you get the impression that a driver could have a race where they lap the entire field, and he’d probably complain that they were too slow and should have lapped the field twice.

        1. +1. I’ve thought the same thing for quite a while, but never commented on it. Not my idea of a good person to have a beer with. Oh well.

  5. I bet he is ok to be 2nd driver now.

  6. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    31st May 2023, 13:25

    It’d be nice to see Ricciardo back in a seat but it all depends on who loses their seat.

  7. Also reading between the lines McLaren has a bad simulator or a outdated one. (Now i make & deliver the computers to the company who build the simulators of several racing teams (Red Bull one of them)
    Maybe Mister BRown should visit us for a new one.

    1. I thought that too, although you have to remember what Sainz used to say about how weirdly Mclarens handle too. Maybe it’s both combined…

    2. That is a very interesting point indeed. It might also have to do with the correlation between the behavior of the sim versus reality and / or how well one can ‘translate’ what happens in the sim versus what happens on the actual track. Maybe this comes much more natural (or automatic) to guy’s like Lando and Max who are playing a lot of video games / sims in their pastime as well and giving them a (marginal) gain in the translation part. So in short, maybe the sim is beneficial for a guy like Lando (even if it has quirks) – but creates noise for Daniel.

      1. Norris has never driven anything but Mclarens. For him thats what an F1 car is.
        For Daniel the Mclaren didn’t behave in anyway like the Red Bull or Renault, to him it wasn’t an F1 car. And any adapting he did to the Mclaren just made it worse.

      2. Needless to say, the simulator cannot generate actual g loads that a real car can. Maybe this is part of it, feedback doesn’t match actual race physical loading and when on the track there’s a lack of correlation.

        1. @stever – No G loads isn’t entirely true the ones we made actually are capped on 1G so it could easy simulate a normal road car it gets interesting when we remove the safety features …
          So a drivers still gets feedback on what the car does in corners, breaking and heights ect. but only (in their view) it’s mmmh while me are sweating when i climb out of the simulator.

  8. I don’t think the question was ever, has he lost it? He clearly had lost it. The question is, can he get it back? The strong hints from the rumor mills was that Daniel was more interested in the glamour lifestyle that comes with F1 and wasn’t putting in the work. Admittedly, it’s hard when you live in L.A. and are recording albums to commute to the factory in the U.K. to put in time in the office. Even Horner hinted at this problem when Daniel returned to Red Bull. I still think that he would be better off in the broadcasting booth. He won’t get paid as much but he can still attend the Met Gala, record albums, and still hang around the paddock without the pressures of being an F1 driver week in and week out.

    1. ,@g-funk Being from the same country I have a soft spot for him, even though sometimes I think he has a kangaroo loose in the top paddock.
      What you say seems accurate and perhaps ominously for Daniel Marko retorted recently about statements from Ralf Schumacher about Mick, that Red Bull was interested in “performance not marketing”.
      But I think as long as RBR see themselves being able to make more money out of him (in any role) than they pay him (that’s the reality in the big bad world) then he will still be around in some form or another. And at the risk of the ultimate insanity i.e. me giving advice to ANY F1 team , I really don’t see anything but downside to adding perceived pressure to Perez.
      If there’s one person I wouldn’t worry about living a happy life outside F1 or motor racing, it’s Daniel.

  9. 1. Yes, he has lost it – how many seasons being outscored by the teammate does his need to come back to the real world?
    2. His constant smiling seems to be more and more a bit out of place, showing insecurity than happiness.

    Anyway, good to hear from ex-F1 drivers from time to time :)

  10. isthatglock21
    31st May 2023, 18:02

    Plenty of rumours of his first sim session which many didn’t believe until Horner & Marko came out & confirmed it & went in further detail. Rather worrying how much he has gone backwards. Shows how much of it is mental & to keep going, Alonso/Hamilton make it look easy. Even Vettell arguably wasn’t the same post Redbull with 2017/18 being seasons he never recovered from. Other than Danny Ric I’d say McLaren”s approach is to blame, far too data centeic & & built around Lando who from radios is one of the most coached drivers I’ve ever heard, especially in the earlier years. Along with Sainz who was very technical. Awful team to go into for a feel driver like Danny Ric.

  11. Well none of us will ever really know if Daniel has his mojo back unless he gets the opportunity to drive a real F1 car in a competitive situation. The Pirelli tyre test might give us a little idea but that’s what he really needs.

    I cannot really see any obvious openings for 2024. But who knows. F1 always has been full of surprises.

    I cannot believe some people are so negative about Daniel appearing to be more happy and smiling. Oh he’s fooling himself or putting on a brave face. What’s wrong with smiling and making the best of things?

  12. José Lopes da Silva
    31st May 2023, 19:49

    Just to remember that Ricciardo terminated Hulkenberg’s career in 2019 and then Hulkenberg returned.
    It will be interesting to see if Ricciardo is able to return. It’s an unusual case in the history of the sport. Doesn’t mean that he is able to come and compete with Verstappen. But that’s exactly where he was in 2018. Very few drivers can aspire to compete with Verstappen.
    Surely Helmut Marko thinks it would be interesting to watch too, otherwise we would not have signed him back.

  13. On the one hand I would like to see Daniel drive competitively in F1, but on the other hand there are drivers like Mick Schumacher, Felipe Drugovich, Théo Pourchaire, Liam Lawson, etc, who are at least just as deserving of a seat as Daniel. Can Daniel bring more to a team than those other drivers who have also earned the right for a seat? I believe he can bring more, but not substantially more. If he wants to race in F1 then he’s going to have to accept a pay cut and he’s going to have to commit himself to showing he is one of the best drivers in F1.

  14. Why’s his engineer been relegated to the sim?
    Can’t he just go on Drivel to Swivel without stinking out the back of the real-life grid? The “fans” next March won’t know any different.

    1. Why’s his engineer been relegated to the sim?

      Because between races the race engineer isn’t race engineering, and maybe, just maybe, useful things might be learned by said engineer about driver and car setup while being ‘relegated’ to the sim.

  15. I like Ricciardo but he thinks he’s a bigger deal than he actually is.

    Does anyone still care if he comes back or not? So many young and promising guys around, and it’not not like he’s being missed after so much time being lackluster in the car.

    1. I’ve learned over the years that virtually every loser is lovable to someone.

      And that cold hard evidence of competitive failure seldom is enough to convince a driver or their most ardent supporters.

      1. What exactly have you done with your life that makes you less of a ‘loser’ than an F1 driver?

  16. I think if Danny doesn’t get a seat next year or the year after… he’ll be on the radar for Aston Martin once Alonso retires… Lawrence stroll has always looked at getting a race winner to “Mentor” his son along.

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