‘Horner drank champagne from my sweaty race boots’: Ricciardo reflects on Red Bull return

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Daniel Ricciardo may not be actively racing this season but that does not mean the popular Australian has retired his trademark victory celebration.

At a Red Bull charity event in Miami Beach last Thursday, someone bid $US15,000 ($22,179) to see Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner do a “shoey” alongside reserve driver Ricciardo. Horner had his choice of poison – he went with champagne, for the record – and the pair downed their drinks out of a pair of Ricciardo’s race boots.

Daniel Ricciardo and Christian Horner, pictured in 2018, provided plenty of entertainment at a charity function in Miami last week. Credit: Getty Images

The next day, sitting outside Red Bull’s paddock home inside the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, Ricciardo looks full of the joys of spring. “I saw Christian at breakfast,” he says, grinning. “He mentioned he was feeling a bit queasy. To be honest, he got away lightly. Those boots were box fresh.

“To be fair, Christian did do a real one in Malaysia once, which, I will put my hand up, is probably the sweatiest race I’ve ever done. So he got the full experience that time!”

Ricciardo sits back in his chair and smiles. He cannot deny he would love to be driving this season, particularly Red Bull’s RB19 rocket ship, which has won every race of the season so far. But ultimately, he says, he may have needed this year off.

“It’s easy to say that in hindsight,” he admits. “And I don’t want it to sound like I’m lacking ambition. Like, of course I want to be racing. That’s a given. But I do feel happy with the decision to take this year off and not pursue a [race] seat for the sake of it.

“I needed to switch off a little bit. Some people might be like, ‘Oh, that’s that’s a weakness. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen’. But I was like, I’m happy to just put all those things – my ego, my pride – aside and just look at myself in the mirror and be like, ‘What do I need in 2023 to kind of get myself back a little bit? To put myself in a happier place? To give myself the best chance of success in the long-term?’”

The trick now, Ricciardo says, will be navigating his way back. At 33, age is not the issue. Fernando Alonso is still driving as well as ever in his 40s. The trick will be proving he still has what it takes behind the wheel after a chastening couple of seasons with McLaren when he struggled (one memorable win at Monza in 2021 aside) to adapt to the car’s specific characteristics and was roundly beaten by teammate Lando Norris.

There is no doubt Ricciardo provides huge value for Red Bull Racing. In many respects he is the perfect reserve driver; fast and experienced in the car, hugely popular outside of it.

As one of the most high-profile drivers in the sport, a Netflix star, sponsors adore him, which means he can take the pressure off Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez by tuning up at events such as Thursday’s, which ended up raising over $US300,000 ($443,588) for Red Bull’s Wings for Life charity, which aims to find a cure for spinal cord injury.

Rather than looking for an early exit from such events, Ricciardo fully enters into the spirit of them. He spoke movingly in a Q&A alongside Canadian driver Rob Wickens, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in 2018 in his IndyCar rookie season.

Even when Horner went off-piste at one point, auctioning off Ricciardo’s services as a country and western singer at a planned demo event in Nashville later this year, he did not baulk.

“I’m not sure anyone is going to want to hear me make people’s ears bleed, but it’s for a good cause,” he laughs. “I actually enjoy those evenings. I’m old enough now to understand the business aspect of it. And I appreciate what Red Bull have done for me and my career. I’ve come full circle being back here.”

That journey was brought home when Horner told the room of his first encounter with the Australian at Silverstone in 2009, driving in British F3, and recalled how impressed he was that the young Carlin driver took two poles and two wins. Ricciardo, listening, was clearly moved.

“It’s funny, when someone’s in front of you, telling you to your face how good you are it can be a little bit awkward,” he says. “But no, I remember that day. I was pretty proud to perform like that in front of Christian.”

Now he has to do it all over again. How can he?

“It’s everything,” he says. “The sim[ulator] time, giving good feedback. Working well with the engineers. Challenging them. Being positive. And then, ultimately, getting behind the wheel.”

Ricciardo will get his go in the RB19 at the Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone, a couple of days after the British Grand Prix in July. He cannot wait.

“I hope it’s ultimately a car that gets my confidence back,” he says. “The signs in the sim are good. And I’m putting pressure on myself, because I want to feel that pressure. I want this test to mean something. I did a test in the middle of 2013, which ultimately set up my seat in 2014 with the team. Ten years later I’m kind of in that same position again.”

What does that mean? Beating the lap times set by Perez and Verstappen the previous weekend?

“Not so much,” he replies. “It’s more about me. I’ve been doing this long enough. I know if I put a good showing in, it won’t go unnoticed. It might not be lap time [on which he is judged] at the end of the day. It might be like, ‘Oh sh–, by the end of lap two he was already flat out.’ By the end of the test, I just want them to be like ‘Oh, f— this kid still has it. He’s not just cruising around. He’s not a test driver.’”

Even if that is the reaction, Ricciardo accepts there is no guarantee he can get a seat with Red Bull. Perez has had an excellent start to this season with two wins in four races, and the Mexican is contracted until the end of next year.

Ricciardo pleads the fifth when asked whether Perez can take the title fight to Verstappen. “It’s hard to say,” he says. “It’s going to be interesting. Even if he keeps finishing second when he doesn’t win, one DNF [for Verstappen] and it’s a big points swing.

“As for myself, I’ve got to keep an open mind. Probably by mid-season I’ll start to see what other teams are available. But yeah, coming back here has reminded me how much of a role Red Bull played in my career and how much, yeah, I would love to go full circle. I won’t lie. Have I imagined winning with them again? F— yeah. Absolutely.”

The Telegraph, London

News, results and expert analysis from the weekend of sport sent every Monday. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article