Australian driver had to navigate a low point in his career to come out on top of Sunday’s Italian GP
By Yuri Coghe
Daniel Ricciardo took a huge gamble when he left Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season. And it worked.
While some might say a potential lack of a world championship by the time he retires will actually mean it didn’t, a closer look at the Australian as both an athlete and a person will show otherwise.
Ricciardo showed an impressive display of resilience, perseverance and mental strength to endure a tough start to his McLaren career in the 2021 season.
Add two years at Renault, with only two podiums to show for, and you’ll get two seasons and a half of disappointment.
Seeing McLaren teammate Lando Norris rise to the podium on three occasions before the last race weekend and finish in the points in the first ten GPs of the season also didn’t help.
Was Ricciardo about to be relegated to a has-been under the shadow of a younger teammate? Which was the main reason he left Red Bull in the first place?
It was surely not the best outcome for a driver with seven career wins to his name – including imposing performances like China and Monaco in 2018, and one that has also finished seasons ahead of teammates Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, and Max Verstappen, the 2021 championship leader.
Most drivers would never be able to recover the required level of confidence to perform at their best.
He refused to let that be the end of him. And it paid off on Sunday.
The Australian topped the first 1-2 of the season to get his first victory as a non-Red Bull driver and eighth overall at the Italian GP in Monza.
On track, he overtook Norris in the sprint qualifying on Saturday to start the race in second place and proceeded to get the best out of Verstappen at the start to jump to the lead on Sunday.
He also showed great pace to hold off the Dutchman until the first pit stop window and to remain ahead of Norris after the safety car restart.
But the mental side of it all was even more impressive.
“It means everything,” Ricciardo said about the victory.
“I definitely try not to make or dictate my life happiness around the sport because it’s been three-and-a-half years since I won so I’d be pretty miserable most of the time if I just based my happiness on winning races.
“It’s just wild… but deep down I never lost faith or the belief and I think I needed to step back and that’s where I think having some time off in August helped, and I truly think that helped this weekend, to get to this position.”
The parts in bold are special. Much like his driving.
“It feels, I don’t know what the word is… it’s reassuring for me. I believe in myself obviously. I think everyone does to get to this point in the sport. I’ve certainly been challenged this year and you know the sport is just a tricky one.
“It’s not so black and white I guess, and sometimes you do struggle to find some answers but I think you have to stay… true to the course and you can easily get lost as well. I think, deep down I would have moments of frustration or moments of dropping my head but I kind of made a point never to let that last.”
World champion or not by the time that he retires, Ricciardo decided to believe in himself and try his luck by leaving Red Bull. He choose challenge over comfort. And even when things got hard, he kept it going.
It led to Ricciardo giving McLaren their first win since the 2012 Brazilian GP won by Jenson Button. But more importantly, he gave F1 fans a true lesson of mental strength.