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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 author
Daniel Ricciardo went through that which could best be described as a dark night of the spirit last Saturday.
After the passing of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver went back to his hotel and questioned whether it was all worth it. The response did not come easily, but in the end the Australian raced on Sunday at Spa.
Four days , he sits with BBC Sport at the start of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, also delve deep into what it takes to get a racing driver to face his fears and race in these difficult circumstances.
“I certainly challenged it,” that the 30-year-old Australian says. “The stark reality is, weirdly, I do love it a lot. Racing did feel right in the conclusion. Despite the fact that I did not really want to, once I did it, it was just like, OK, that actually feels normal and right.”
For quite a very long time over a weekend, even though, it felt anything but normal.
“When you’re a child and you watch it on TV, and you are not current or not part of it,” Ricciardo states,”it seems like there’s some kind of distance, or a disconnection to what’s happened.
“But if you are there and it happens to a few of your colleagues, or it’s in the same race, it sounds more real, and it is like:’OK, that really can happen to anyone, and it is here, it is present today.’
“The realisation people not being fine does put in. I know my parents worry enough for me – you know, seeing me race and traveling the world every couple of days and now being on a plane. You merely question it: is it really worth putting not just myself but household below precisely the exact identical amount of pressure?”
The night of the collision, Ricciardo states, he”didn’t get much sleep, and for sure you are asking your questions, likely only fighting a little piece with some anger and some frustration of’why,’ you understand?
“And then also fighting a few of the emotions of should I get up and race tomorrow? Is it the right thing to do morally? Is it the ideal thing?
“And I kind of did think:’Let’s see how I feel by lunchtime, and when I am still having any doubts then possibly the most powerful thing for me is to not race.’
“I sort of wanted to play it by ear. Running through all these scenarios:’What if I feel? Imagine if this?’
“By Sunday morning, I had a bit more clarity. I wake up preparing myself and did manage to sleep just a bit. But it felt bizarre and cold. It did not feel right to be excited to race, merely to be delighted to be there. It felt tick off the minutes, and find the task finished.
“The lead-up into the race, so I’d probably only describe it as not really fun in terms of just it had been tough to try and go through the moves and undergo a regular when that’s occurred less than 24 hours past. Additionally, you know, drivers’ parade and that, you’re turning to fans, however you don’t feel grinning or being happy, I suppose.
“It was difficult, just hoping to enter the zone, simply trying to get any form of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday wasn’t simple, but it had been more of a despair than a panic and I think it was important I recognized that. If I had been getting in the car with a pure level of fear, then it wouldn’t have been clever for me . I did know that it was a sadness.”
“After we sort of got going, it actually felt like pretty good launch. It felt like a de-stress, only rival and racing. It had been just like flushing out the system and that felt good Only going at those rates.
“Following the race, for certain I was still glad it was done but I did feel better than I did 2 hours before that.
“I will be frank, the race has been fun. It was good to be outside. As much as I was excited about seeing the chequered flag, I’d like a pure race on Sunday.”
The race acted as a kind of catharsis.
“If something happens, you have simply go to dip back into it, and that is the ideal means of overcoming it. And I believe that is exactly what the race has been for us. I told myself things’Just go fast once possible. Leave the pits and go, and try to get into that mode. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t areas.’
“I remember I got from these pitsdrifted out, and compelled me to get into that mindset right away.”
That is really a reference to his ideas about moving through Raidillon. It’s a component of the Eau Rouge swerves, a left-hander within the brow of a mountain taken out at more than 180mph.
“I told me ‘Go full throttle, and simply don’t over-think this corner, so do not over-think it’ Out of these pits… maintained it full. This really was a relief but it felt good to get out there and do this. And that told me I was prepared to go.
“I think if I was, big lift and scared, then that could be a indication that perhaps I should not be on the track at the moment. I guess I needed to do this to check myself and it all felt right.”
Can he talk to the drivers about it?
“I must speak to some few. This year I met Anthoine. The Renault Academy boys clearly spent a great deal of time and I watched them Sunday morning. I talked to a couple of them Saturday night as well, just over text.
“They’d done training camps collectively. They’re a small household. They are younger. That’s where I felt I could attempt to be a little bit of, in some ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. I was feeling it, but they had been. We basically gave a kiss to each other on Sunday. We attempted to chat over it a tiny bit.
“And then with the other drivers, I talked to a few of them, but before the race you might see everyone kind of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to get the driver parade, we were just standing out there. There were several handshakes or hugs however you could sort of tell everybody was just trying to get ready for the race and it turned out to be a difficult one. Following the race, I talked to mostly the French drivers, who I understood were closest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not the very first driver Ricciardo has known who has been killed. The F1 driver to reduce his entire life was that the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. Ricciardo’d come up through the rankings with Bianchi and they had been close friends.
“Jules’ [passing ] hit me very hard,” Ricciardo says. “In a sense, maybe not disrespecting it, I was really surprised how difficult it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit on me hard and for this to last long – the hurt and the despair from this extended over a period.
“With this weekend, you believe time kind of cures everything, and it was just like, OK, nothing’s happened for a little while and with great reason. The sport’s got safer and we’re at a place that was great. And then it occurs. And it is a shock.
“It’s an anger that it has occurred again. We thought we had moved on from this. It’s when it’s refreshed on your mind again and it’s there in front of you, it is hard not to think about it with trouble.”
Has it altered his outlook on racing?
“Initially, it did change. Time does cure it. Those intense emotions that are first did fizzle out.
“With the Jules one, I felt as if my purpose and intent after that was,’OK, if we are going to strap ourselves to those cars, and when we’re all conscious of the hazard, it doesn’t make sense to move in half-heartedly. Go all in, if we are going to do it, and make it worthwhile.’
“I felt like Jules’ passing kind of made me adopt the racer even more so. And to be honest this will end up having the identical effect.
“I did not have that kind of fear in the race. And until that fear steps in, I will just use it. However a long time I do it, at least I can say I did it correctly.”
It can be hard to comprehend how a racing motorist can compartmentalise their fears this manner, or the uniqueness of the sort of character needed to do a job that they know might kill them, but to move ahead and do it anyway since they love it so much they can’t stop.
Can Ricciardo clarify what exactly makes F1 drivers capable to live with this contradiction?
He pauses for a couple of seconds.
“Actually I get goosebumps,” he states,”because I do not actually understand how or why.
“On Saturday nightI felt no place to drive a race car around precisely exactly the same track the next moment. But getting out of these pits and going through Raidillon and that, it was weird how normal and natural it felt. And I can not describe that.
“It’s probably just when you’ve got a deep fascination and love for something, that is the result. I surprised myself, In all honesty. And we did on Sunday.
“I did not expect to enjoy any area of the race, no matter where I finished. However, I really do enjoy being out there, and that rush of racing. Yes, it was in mind, of course. But how we’re ready to put it I can’t explain how or why. It does surprise me”
Ricciardo is famous for his gung-ho style, along with his assaulting victories, often made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves where he yells the car down the inside of an opponent from an impossible space back. How can he rationalise the dangers, on knowing that an accident is always a possibility carry?
“You’ve got to always control the controllables,” he says. “In my own case, I suppose never find reckless.
“After the race or at times you will find me provide a driver the finger show my type of anger. However, I tried to teach myself get reckless and also to not let the emotion take more than the driver at the race.
“Yes, I’ve tried some late overtakes in my time and I have done some motions that might seem risky, but there is always a degree of calculation and control in that and it has never done only on emotion.
“So I will not let myself get reckless or put myself in a position I don’t need to be in. Yes, be on that line that is fine and I wish to take risks. But be sensible enough to not over-step it and that I think I am ready to do this.
“From that point of view, I am comfortable hopping in the car. There the thing of technical and failures things that could go wrong. That’s an uncontrollable out of my side. Can’t really consider those actually. And even in the event that you know they’re there and current at times, as soon as you get going and place on the helmet, you don’t think about doing it.
“It’s one of the things that if it occurs in the wrong place or the incorrect corner, then what exactly can you? You’ve got to put that rationale in mind that it might have occurred on the way to the circuit, so it might have happened on the street.”
It is uncommon for racing drivers to talk about danger and the danger of passing openly.
Safety is discussed every weekend at F1, but it in an abstract level – everything can we do about this gravel trap, or that barrier?
Hubert’s death has brought it front and center. Is it hard is it to talk about it?
“Obviously it’s difficult to deal with something that’s actual and has happened,” Ricciardo says,”however, it does help to talk about it. Having the comfort of everybody else last weekend and being around the grid and talking to a number of the other motorists… yeah, it’s not fun speaking about it all, but in addition, it helps relieve any emotions or feelings.
“I think just knowing that you are in the exact same boat with someone else, knowing that you’re not alone feeling the way you do, which helps.
“Being part of a team or a community. That really is the place you realisethere are rivalries or whatever, but a rivalry on track does not express how much most of us have in common and how far we do actually feel and care for each other.
“It’s hard but it will feel nice to get some of it off your chest.”
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