Daniel Ricciardo is used to the fast lane. He lives it. The 30-year-old is Australia’s sole racing driver in the high-octane, big bucks business that is Formula One.
But like the rest of us, Ricciardo is facing an extended stint off the grid. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a handbrake on motorsports, as it has every other pastime. Every club, bar and festival.
There’s one caveat for fans of fast cars in these times of self-isolation. The stars of the sport are thrust under the microscope for Drive to Survive, a two-season documentary series that’s currently creaming it on Netflix.
Ricciardo is no passenger. He’s up front and centre, his easy nature the antidote to some of his robotic rivals; Britain’s reigning champ Lewis Hamilton, German superstar Sebastian Vettel among them.
The Western Australian is every bit the jovial character he appears in the series. “I watched my episodes first. Just to make sure I’m not portrayed as an arsehole,” he tells Rolling Stone with a laugh. “Flicking through Netflix and seeing yourself on TV, it’s still quite funny. It’s quite surreal.”
“Flicking through Netflix and seeing yourself on TV, it’s still quite funny. It’s quite surreal.”
Everything about the world of F1 is surreal. The speed, the stakes, the machinery of this alpha-elite sport which, in a normal year, invades a new country every week or so from March to November.
This is not a normal year. The opening round, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, was canceled late as the health crisis gathered pace. “It’s actually settling in for the whole world right now,” he says of the health crisis. “It’s pretty real. It’s not a joke anymore.”
The shutdown is a tough break for Ricciardo. This was meant to be his year. Now driving for Renault, the Aussie has enjoyed multiple podium finishes over his decade in F1. But the world championship, awarded to the driver who accumulates the most points over the course of the season, has eluded him.
“I feel as far as I’m evolving as a driver and a person that, if I was in a fight for the world title today, I think I have all the attributes and composure to handle the pressure,” he tells RS.
Away from the track, he’s your typical Aussie. His love of music runs deep. He counts Dave Le’aupepe from Gang of Youths among his friends and he’s part owner in the Goods Way music venue in central London, a venture with his friend, Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons.
He’s a Beats Ambassador, and his playlist is running hot with Garrett Merk, Emerson Leif, G Flip, Teskey Brothers, and DRAMA. Before a race he’s been known to jack up with Parkway Drive or his high school thrills, Alexisonfire and the Amity Affliction.
As a youngster, he spent all his hours outdoors playing backyard cricket and racing go-karts in Perth. Always competing. He’s “obsessed” with UFC and has a passion for two wheels, counting Italian motorcycling great Valentino Rossi as one of his all-time heroes. As a youngster, Ricciardo hung posters of Michael Jordan, Rossi, and the late Brazilian F1 star Ayrton Senna on his bedroom walls.
“It’s funny, I tell the bike riders they’re crazy and they tell me I’m crazy,” he remarks. “They’re definitely on another level, take my word.”
“As long as I’m fit and healthy, I’ll keep doing it until I get it. That’s what I’m after.”
Ricciardo rattles off the names of Australia’s motorbiking elite. Chad Reed, Troy Corser, Troy Bayliss, Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan. “Aussies tend to be good on bikes. Bikes require a tonne of skill but also a cowboy mentality.
“Australians are pretty ballsy, they’re rough, they’ll jump on, if they fall off and hurt themselves, they’ll brush it off and go again. That’s probably why there’s a lot of good motorbike riders (from Australia), because they’re willing to hurt themselves but push the limit.”
Great Australian F1 drivers, however, are few and far between. Former Red Bull driver Mark Webber finished his F1 career in 2013, replaced by his countryman Ricciardo, finishing no higher than third in the Driver’s Championship. Jack Brabham and Alan Jones dominated the sport in the years before he was born.
Ricciardo wants to be the next Australian champion. “Since I was young, I was a competitor. I hated losing. I guess I got here because I love competition and I believe in myself, that I can beat the best in the world. I’m just trying to prove that to myself really, and ultimately a world title will give me that proof. As long as I’m fit and healthy, I’ll keep doing it until I get it. That’s what I’m after.”
If, and when he gets to the top of the podium, expect Ricciardo to get there minus a shoe.
The Aussie turned the “shoey” into a phenomenon. Gerard Butler drank from Ricciardo’s boot after the 2016 United States Grand Prix. Sir Patrick Stewart demanded it after the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix.
“I didn’t prompt him. He grabbed the mic and said, ‘give me some of that,'” says Ricciardo, laughing at the image of Jean-Luc Picard drinking bubbly from a man’s shoe.
The relaxed, larrikin attitude, “that’s me, that’s who I am,” says Ricciardo. “I wasn’t aware going into F1 it was so business-like and formal and strict, it felt very stiff to me, it wasn’t my personality.
“Once I started to get more comfortable in my sport and its surroundings I thought, let’s try make this place a fun place. I didn’t think the shoey would be a success. I thought, everyone is going to look at me like I’m some sort of sicko.”
It took off, and no one thought the Aussie was funny in the head. “I feel like I relaxed a lot of the shoulders in the sport.”
And who would be in Ricciardo’s Shoey Hall of Fame? “As far as drivers go, it would be Lewis [Hamilton] because he seems to be the most precious of them all.” He would be the one who hate to do it the most? Not the teutonic Vettel? “I think both of them, they seem like very hygienic people.”
From the celebrity world, Denzel Washington would make a good target for a boot filled with booze. “That would make some headlines,” says Ricciardo. “Let’s lock Denzel in.”
The first and second seasons of Formula 1: Drive to Survive are on Netflix now.