Real reason Ricciardo quit Red Bull
THERE has been plenty of speculation about why Daniel Ricciardo decided to quit Red Bull at the end of this season and now the F1 star has shed further light on why he feels comfortable moving on from the team that made him.
When he announced during the mid-season break he would be joining Renault on a two-year deal from 2019, Ricciardo said he needed a change.
Some pundits suggested a power struggle with teammate Max Verstappen and the frustration at suffering repeated mechanical failures, which have forced him to retire eight times this year, had backed Ricciardo into a corner.
Add to that an inability to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari as the sport's top dogs over the past five years and Ricciardo had a compelling case to pack up and leave.
But while those may have been contributing factors in the 29-year-old's decision to quit Red Bull - a call he says was the most difficult of his life - a realisation he had already achieved so much with the energy drink team is what really gave Ricciardo the confidence to walk away.
Writing a first-person piece for The Players Tribune, Ricciardo said he reached a point of clarity as he was pondering his next career move on a flight to Los Angeles after his fourth-placed finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Faced with offers from both Red Bull and Renault, Ricciardo was torn. But as he reflected on all he'd achieved with Red Bull since making his F1 debut in 2014 for the team, the jigsaw pieces fell into place.
"At this point on the flight, we were almost descending into LA. I was close to my answer. I had gone through so many happy memories … the thoughts were coming thick and fast now because I was in the present," Ricciardo wrote.
"My mind was right where it needed to be: the halfway point of this year.
"I feel incredibly privileged to have driven for Red Bull Racing and been part of the Red Bull family for 10 years. They gave me my break, and without Dr (Helmut) Marko spotting me all those years ago, I don't think I would have been able to make my way to F1, to my dream job.
"I will remember this team, these great people, this family, forever.
"And that thought, right there, is when I found clarity. I've done so much with Red Bull … I've become who I've always wanted to be, right by their side. And I know, I know, that I can leave having given them my everything and having received the same in return.
"I needed to listen to my heart, I needed to go it alone and make my own decision. Change is scary - it's f---ing terrifying. And I know the next part of my journey won't always be easy, but I had to take this step to try to be the best version of me. That's all it was. It was the next step, the next leap, a new challenge."
This season has been one of Ricciardo's most difficult. Desperate to win a world championship, the West Australian has been crippled by car troubles and bad luck.
But even as the frustration grew, he never lost his love for Red Bull, heaping praise on the team that has provided him with experiences he will cherish for a lifetime.
"At times, this season has been incredibly difficult. I've talked about rolling with the punches … but man, even I get sore after a while. I'm human," Ricciardo wrote.
"But I really want you all to hear this: I hope everyone understands that Red Bull is so much more than a brand. It's a family, it's a statement of what's possible.
"If a team can do all this; win football leagues, build the fastest cars, sign the best gamers, run air races, what are we all capable of? Red Bull just does rad s---, and I have loved being a part of it."
Ricciardo reflected on his maiden F1 win in Montreal in 2014 with particular fondness, after coming from fourth to pass Mercedes stars Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and Force India's Sergio Perez in a stunning late surge.
The Australian took the lead with only a couple of laps remaining and held on for dear life.
"I won't forget that day, and that move on Sergio will stick in my mind forever. Because there was a time, back when I was teenager, when I wouldn't have had the courage to do that. There was a time when the honey badger - my spirit animal, my alter-ego - didn't exist," Ricciardo said.
And then there was his first F1 gig, confirmed when he received a call from Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko telling him he was going to partner Sebastian Vettel at the 2014 British Grand Prix.
The thrill of being alongside his idols and a classy gesture from Hamilton are things Ricciardo will never forget.
"That whole weekend was a blur. I sat beside Rubens Barrichello in the press conference. I had scruffy hair hanging out from under my hat - I looked like an idiot (haha)," Ricciardo wrote.
"The media were asking Rubens to give me some advice. I was like, 'I've watched this guy my entire life, and he's probably never even heard of me.'
"Lewis Hamilton pulled me aside after it was over.
"'You're going to be fine. Just … look around every once and a while and enjoy it. One day you're going to write an article about this and you're going to want to remember the details.' (OK, he didn't say that last part, but still …).
"For a world champ to take time out of his home grand prix to talk to me actually calmed me down a lot. I got lapped like four times on Sunday, and the day was a total mess … but, s***, it was awesome.
"I learned that one-lap pace is just a small, small part of what makes a driver so good. I learned that there's exactly one million buttons on a steering wheel. And I learned that driving an F1 car is the most fun you can possibly have.
"That last point is super important. It always has to be fun. That's why I race."