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Daniel Ricciardo has 'no regrets' after disappointing season

Daniel Ricciardo is still smiling after a challenging season. (Credit: Getty Images)
Daniel Ricciardo is still smiling after a challenging season. (Credit: Getty Images)

As Daniel Ricciardo sits down, he is grinning like a kid in a toy store.

Grinning is something that comes easily to Ricciardo. He is renowned for his big toothy smile but on this occasion, his beam is more that of a Cheshire cat.

He explains it is because he has just been interviewed by Jean Alesi.

"I'm trying not to geek out but I know my father was a big fan," said Ricciardo, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sport. "Would he ever have thought that one day Jean would be interviewing me? That's kind of crazy."

Alesi enjoyed a 13-season career in Formula One, from 1989 to 2001, winning just one of his 201 starts for Tyrrell, Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan.

"I was a fan myself," added Ricciardo. "I knew about him through dad. There are photos of me as a kid with an Alesi hat.

"I certainly liked his raggedness, with the way he manhandled the car. It was quite cool to watch.

"It might be the Sicilian blood in us. His heritage is similar."

Joe, or Giuseppe - to give him his Italian name - Ricciardo was born in Sicily, as was Alesi's father Franco.

"I think that's why dad secretly liked him. He felt he was a long-lost cousin or something," said Ricciardo.

"He met Jean earlier this year. I'd made Jean aware he was quite a fan. It's quite funny because he gets a bit embarrassed."

Ricciardo finished 11th at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (Credit: Getty Images)
Ricciardo finished 11th at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. (Credit: Getty Images)

Alesi is not Ricciardo's only left-field hero as he throws seven-times NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, Valentino Rossi (from his 125cc days only), and fellow Australian Wayne Gardner, 1987 500cc motorbike champion, into the mix.

Ricciardo is nothing if not unconventional.

"I'm a big fan of Wayne," enthused Ricciardo. "He did a documentary on his championship-winning season, and I watched that hundreds of times as a kid.

"So I was inspired by Dale and Wayne. Having those heroes really drew me into motorsport, but to be honest, even without a hero I was always in love with the speed, the sound, so I was always drawn to it.

"But those kinds of figures made it a bit more inspiring for me, and with Jean definitely one from that era.”

Given Ricciardo's character, he likely inspires many people himself, although whether he will be a champion like Gardner, Earnhardt and Rossi is open to debate.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Ricciardo's move from Red Bull to Renault, given the respective form of both teams this season, would appear to be a wrong turn.

Last season, while team-mates with Max Verstappen at Red Bull, the gap between the two was 79 points, a consequence of him suffering eight retirements compared to the three for the Dutchman.

This year, with the duo on opposing teams, that gap has grown to a 224-point chasm.

Ricciardo has retired from four races and been disqualified once this season. (Credit: Getty Images)
Ricciardo has retired from four races and been disqualified once this season. (Credit: Getty Images)

Renault has also slipped from an encouraging fourth in the constructors' championship last season to fifth this season, yet Ricciardo insists there are "no regrets".

The 30-year-old added: "As to whether I'm satisfied or not, I'd say satisfied. Has the team under-achieved or over-achieved? I'd say we've under-achieved, for the most part.

"To summarise, it's been encouraging. Yes, we didn't achieve what we wanted to achieve this year, but we've learned from most of our under-achievements and failures, if you want to call them that.

"I'm encouraged that next year we can improve and that I can improve. I did improve this season but there is still more I can improve on.

"Naturally, it will come from just getting more and more familiar with the car, so then I can help develop a car that will start to suit me a bit more.

"Then there will be knowing the team better from having more of a presence, so being able to get the ball rolling before pre-season testing, interacting more, and doing things that will bring us more together."

Should Ricciardo feel any need to console himself over this season he can always add another tattoo to his burgeoning collection of ink.

Since obtaining his first in 2013, Ricciardo claims they are "addictive". He says they are a way of releasing the pressure, of finding something else to focus on away from racing.

This year he has adorned his left arm with the word 'Love', and more significantly, a cherub.

(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)
(Credit: Getty Images)

"This sounds really silly - and people will think it's the stupidest reason to get a tattoo - it's actually exciting, to book it in," explained Ricciardo.

'When you book in with someone, you've then a couple of months of anticipation, and you start getting ideas.

"It's also something to take your mind off everything else. If racing is occupying my mind too much, then I can think 'Oh, I'm getting a tattoo in two weeks. That will be fun'. It's a distraction.”

Somewhat bizarrely, despite his love of tattoos, Ricciardo has a fear of needles. That was put in context for him a few years ago.

"As a kid, I hated getting my flu injections. I was petrified," recalled Ricciardo.

"So there is now a little bit of satisfaction within myself that I can get through it, and you get a little bit of a high when you get through it. You're quite proud you've done so.

"I still don't like them that much. Now, I don't want this to be a story about me being a kind person, but I visited a children's hospital a few years ago, and there were kids with IVs.

"I thought to myself 'Man, I've got it so good. If I'm only getting a needle or two a year from a blood test, or whatever, then who cares. These kids are getting them every day of their lives'. It was a perspective."

The cherub tattoo is also a reminder of the life he has so far enjoyed, and that while there may be tough times in F1, it is nothing compared to those less fortunate.

"That tattoo is mainly based on affection and family," said Ricciardo.

"I grew up with a very loving and caring family. I don't have a family of my own at the moment, so for me, if I do have a family one day, I want to keep those qualities and pass them on to my kids.

"I've met people along the way who have come from pretty broken families.

"When I grew up I felt it was normal to have a mum and dad who are together, that cuddle you and tuck you in bed every night.

"You realise that for some kids that is not the norm, so it's a bit of gratitude that I had that (normal life), but also to remember that is what I want for my kids."

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