The Dan Diaries: Reasons to believe
© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo writes about bad luck, Brazil and how the best elite sportspeople separate themselves from the rest.
If momentum and history count for anything with Brazil this weekend, then I might be in some trouble! I've not been able to finish the last two races in Austin and Mexico because of car dramas, and 19 racing laps total since Suzuka isn't ideal. And then there's Interlagos. For some reason, Brazil and I have never really gotten along. When someone tells you that you've done more races at a track than you've scored points, then it's not great! The only way is up, clearly.
My record here – and even the last two races – makes you wonder about luck and the whole concept of it. Does good or bad luck really exist? Is it something people lean on to make themselves feel better when things go wrong? Or is everything explainable?
Sometimes, luck – good or bad – is a thing simply because it's the only explanation you have for something happening. Not finishing the last two races because of things out of my control sucked of course, but equally you could say I had some luck at the start of the year with finishing races when (teammate) Max (Verstappen) didn't, so things generally even themselves out. What goes around comes around, that sort of thing. Look at Baku earlier in the year when I won that race – I still had to drive well that day, but then you have something random like the headrest coming loose for Lewis (Hamilton) when he was ahead of me … that was what opened up the chance for me to win.
So for me, luck does exist. I'm a believer! Where do I stand on other things, racing-related or not? Let's run through a few.
I'm a big believer in treating people the way you want to be treated in return. I see this in the sport and I'm sure anyone reading this knows people who have different ways of dealing with different people – some better, some worse. Some people treat others like it's a transaction – as in what's in this for me? – and I'm not a massive fan of that. For me, I try not to have too many different scales – I never understand why you would treat, say, someone famous any differently to someone you just met on the street. Aussies are like that generally, I think. Everyone should get the benefit of the doubt until they don't deserve it anymore! So I try to keep pretty consistent with that.
A believer in God or a higher power? Sheesh … that's not an easy one to explain! I was brought up and went to a Catholic school, and as a family we'd go to church on the occasions like Easter and Christmas Day. But the older we got, that began to drift a little, which perhaps is a generational thing. With work for me and where I've been, I've met lots of people, seen lots of things and got a taste for a lot of different angles when it comes to religion. My perspective has become more full, you could say. It all comes down to how you were brought up and the experiences you had with family in those formative years, I guess.
The power of positive thinking? Believer. Big believer. A lot of the people I surround myself with and a lot of my mates are generally happy and positive people. There's good energy that comes with that. The people who are on the other side of that – my mates and I call them 'sappuccinos' because they sap energy! – are always down and see the glass as being half-empty and not half-full. So positive thinking brings good energy, and good energy means you can get things done. Tick.
Can you learn from your mistakes? Absolutely I believe you can. Some people take time to analyse when things don't work, and others are in denial or feel they can just brush it off and they don't need to take anything out of it. I'm in the first category for the most part professionally, and I'm relatively good at that.
Can hard work overcome talent if talent doesn't work hard? Believer. I'm not going to name names in F1 because that might be a bit tricky, but I'll say there were definitely drivers growing up in Australia coming through karting with me who were very talented. They also moved abroad like me and tried to make it, but then they struggled a lot, and all of a sudden I was the one who was creating the headlines, which probably surprised a few people. They had just as much driving talent as me, but perhaps they were out partying and chasing girls and eating crap food and so on, I'm not sure. Whatever the case, things flamed out for them. So you need a baseline of talent, for sure, but hard work can be the thing that separates you. I believe I'm a product of that, and even now, I know that those first couple of years in Europe when I was a nobody and it was really hard to grind away, they completely set me up. Without those years and what they taught me about the hunger I needed, maybe I don't make it at all.
Is sport more mental than physical? For most cases, yes. Some of my best races have been when I'm maybe not physically the strongest or fittest person on the grid, but I'm in the best place mentally because of what's going on in my life and the way I've got myself in the right headspace to perform. Unless you're talking, say, ironman or other sports where your results are based on almost purely physical performance, what separates the great from the very good at the elite level is all mental.
I've become a lot more aware of what I need to do to be in the right mental space and can get myself there on the days even when I'm not really feeling it. Anyone who works knows that there's some days when you're just not naturally in that space, so having the right triggers, routines or whatever that can get you there is really important. Diet, music, stretching … there's a lot of things that, for me, go into it. Saying that, there are some days when you think you're set to have a blinder of a race and don't, or when you don't expect much and you get a result. Look at Baku this year. Waking up that morning, that wasn't a race I was expecting to win. Explains why I looked more surprised than any other emotions in the pics afterwards!
Can you learn more about yourself in bad times than good times? 100 per cent. A big weekend for me over the whole of my career was Canada in 2013 when I was still at Toro Rosso. Mark (Webber) was finishing at Red Bull at the end of that year, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, too much really. And it just wasn't working. I had a shocker of a weekend and 'JEV' (teammate Jean-Eric Vergne) was really strong. I couldn't keep going the way I was going, so I took a step back, re-assessed and did some serious thinking.
I wouldn't say I was lost or at some sort of career crossroads, but I was in a rut, for sure. There's a lot more room to grow from those situations, because if you win, there's a tendency to think 'I was the best today, let's move onto the next one'. I'm trying to get better at learning from that too (it'd be good to have more chances to learn from winning too, I'm working on that!), but you learn way more about your ability and yourself on your worst days, if you're willing to look into it rather than brushing it off as simply bad luck. Which brings us back to where we started …
So, Brazil. I know, five points in six races sounds pretty ugly. But I'm thinking positive thoughts. My stats in Malaysia were about as bad as Brazil until I won Sepang last year, so there's that. Because I've never had a good one in Brazil, my motivation is to figure it out and get that right. We'll give it a crack.
Daniel was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.