For now, “nice to have a bit of love” is how he describes the McLaren news, and if that seems a conceited remark in print, it certainly doesn’t sound it in person. It’s more the irreverence of somebody who commemorates a podium by drinking champagne out of a race-boot and seems to explicitly understand how lucky they are to race F1 cars for a living. Paired with the assertive nature of his driving talent, Ricciardo comes across as the kind of racer most of us would like to imagine ourselves as being.
“This is our dream job,” he says, adding that a few of his paddock peers don’t seem to enjoy it enough. It’s a job Ricciardo admits has changed, though, largely because of media obligations that take up 70% of his working life — and the burden of ‘off-track activities’ can take its toll. Just ask Hamilton, who while an employee of Woking very nearly caved under the pressure of a relentless sponsor-engagement diary.
“Racing, overtaking and being the guy that had a crack and left it all out there, whether it was for first or fifth” is how the Australian describes his approach, and that’s a lovely thing to hear at a time when tyres seem to mean more than testicles.
Unfair comment? Maybe, given the astonishing performance parameters of these modern cars. “You always need a level of commitment,” says Ricciardo, who started his F1 career during the screaming heyday of the 2.4-litre V8s, “but at the speeds we’re now going, the margin for error is smaller.” The car, he continues, is simply going to get away from you that much quicker, and given that nearly 8g is now possible through some corners as a result of obscene levels of downforce, you can believe it. His driving style has had to adapt from his Formula Renault days, when the car would be ‘skated’ into corners on the brakes with tyres durable enough to entertain a loose rear.
It neatly follows that Ricciardo is a proper petrolhead (by no means guaranteed with modern F1 drivers), proof of which lies in his response to being quizzed about his money-no-object three-car garage: “Ferrari 250 SWB, Ferrari F40 and Aston Martin Valkyrie.” Given a time machine, a course would be set for the turbo-crazed era of F1 in the 1980s, with its H-pattern manual ’boxes and visible oversteer. “No social media, no bullshit,” he adds.
Ricciardo sits at the sharp end of the drivers’ championship, ahead of his teammate and among the Ferraris and Mercedes. “Up until now, every opportunity I’ve had, I’ve taken,” he says, alluding as much to an old-fashioned ascent through karting and the junior formulas as to his knack for sliding one up the inside from speeds in excess of 200mph (just watch that triple pass at Baku last year). If his Red Bull RB14 can provide a few more of those opportunities — starting at Silverstone this weekend — that elusive maiden world championship could be closer than many realise.