Daniel Ricciardo exclusive: I’m absolutely ready to return to Red Bull

Thomas Maher
Daniel Ricciardo, RB, 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo shared his thoughts on his F1 comeback, life with Red Bull, and what the future may hold.

Daniel Ricciardo believes he’s ready to return to Red Bull in 2025, saying he still has the hunger and desire to become an F1 World Champion.

The eight-time F1 Grand Prix winner has a chance of returning to Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen in 2025, but will need to dig deep over the course of this season – a desire to do so, he says, still burns deep within him.

Daniel Ricciardo: I’m still hungry to do this

Speaking in an extensive, exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, the Australian driver was his usual gregarious self as he sat to discuss his comeback to Formula 1 and how he feels he’s still got plenty to offer the sport.

Now on the other side of a few tough years in which it briefly looked like his F1 career had spluttered out, Red Bull’s faith that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level is finally showing signs of being rewarded.

Having been given a new chassis at the Chinese Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s performances have been on par with Yuki Tsunoda’s after the Japanese driver very much had the upper hand through the first handful of races in 2024.

But it was in Miami where the old Daniel Ricciardo re-emerged, racing to fourth place in the Sprint race and holding off Carlos Sainz’s faster Ferrari throughout – even if the race itself didn’t go his way due to a qualifying grid penalty.

Given that he’s still climbing uphill to showcase the speed and talent that’s still within, does the veteran of over a decade still have the hunger to make that happen?

“That’s why I’m doing this!” he smiles as we begin our chat in the Red Bull Energy Station at Imola.

“Obviously, I took some time off last year.

“I’m back here because I still have that hunger – I’m not back here because I made some bad investments and I need to make money or anything.

“Honestly, I’m back here because I still believe I can do it. I’m still hungry. Even after Miami, you know, I had such a good Sprint. And then the race was not, mainly due to qualifying.

“That high of the good result filled me with so much joy again but then not backing it up on the Sunday kind of just ate me away.

“[After Miami], I stayed in the States, and I was in LA and I had a really nice week. I enjoyed myself, just being with friends and stuff. But what I wanted to be doing more was being back at the track and getting a result. So yeah, that’s why I’m still here.

“It’s moments like that on Saturday when I know I can still do it, and I’m still hungry to do it. That’s what I told Red Bull when I signed this deal last year with them. I said this isn’t about me trying to find this big contract or anything silly – it’s about me just trying to prove to myself that I can still do it.”

The fourth place in Miami, in a car that shouldn’t be that high in the order, finally managed to quell the murmurings that have surrounded Ricciardo during the first quarter of 2024 as it became apparent that his comeback year hadn’t yielded instant results. But that single 30-minute race finally gave Ricciardo an answer for the naysayers, as he acknowledged.

“That’s the icing on the cake! As a competitor, we’ve all got that little bit of an edge about us where it is nice to shut some people up,” he said.

“But that’s the icing, it’s not the core reason why I’m doing this, because I don’t think that would be the right way to go about it. It’s just that self-fulfilment.”

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It was in the performance itself, and not the end result, from which Ricciardo has gleaned the most pride – a confirmation to himself that the talent that marked him out as one of F1’s brightest stars hasn’t left him.

“Obviously, there are a lot of people around me who support me, care for me, and put a lot of work into helping me as well,” he said.

“So you also want to give them, give it back to them, ultimately, and enjoy those moments with the people who have been by your side. But it’s really just that inner competitor, it’s still there.

“I know, one day, it’ll probably diminish to some degree. But that day isn’t here yet. Even just seeing the Ferrari in my mirrors for the whole race and knowing that… I shouldn’t be in fourth place.

“So, okay, I know I did it and it was great, but every lap, I was able to hold off that Ferrari. I was like ‘alright, good lap!’

“That’s really powerful. I felt ‘This is good, I’m doing something that’s a little bit special here and I’ve worked hard to get myself back to this place’.

“So it’s just fulfilling. Obviously, you get lots of pats on the back but it’s not even about that. It’s just about crossing that line and just knowing that I’m here for the right reasons.”

Of course, Ricciardo’s comeback with RB – a team he previously raced for as Toro Rosso a decade ago – did need a little bit of fortune.

The struggles of Nyck de Vries opened the door for Ricciardo, a door that might not have opened had the Dutch driver adjusted to Formula 1 more quickly.

With so much uncertainty over his own future during the first six months of 2023, Ricciardo said he had managed to come to terms with perhaps never racing in F1 again and never getting the chance to answer the questions he asked of himself.

“At the start of the season, when I was obviously just the reserve or third driver – deep down, I knew there was still a fire in me,” he said.

“So I knew, if I got an opportunity, my answer was going to be yes. But yeah, nothing is guaranteed, right?

“Because Nyck was underperforming, that opened up a door for me, but I knew that it wasn’t guaranteed. Okay, it came by the way of Nyck maybe but I didn’t know where it was going to come from and if it was going to come at all.

“I definitel, mentally, also tried to get comfortable with the thought of maybe never racing in Formula One again. It was nice for me to kind of put myself in that position because I was still able to find some kind of happiness with that kind of life.

“So it’s a little bit reassuring that, when I do stop and when I do retire, I’ll be okay. Yeah. For some athletes, it is a bit of a struggle if they struggle to find their purpose or happiness because it’s something they’ve done their whole lives.

“I was a bit curious how I would respond. So, on one hand, I felt I was going to be okay if it didn’t happen, but maybe I believed it was going to happen. So maybe I say I was okay but maybe because I always held on to some belief that I would be back.”

Daniel Ricciardo: Red Bull’s belief gave me my edge back

Ricciardo’s comeback has been facilitated entirely by Red Bull, the company whom he spent so many years with opting to take a chance on ‘rebuilding’ him after McLaren decided against continuing with the Australian.

Christian Horner famously said that Red Bull almost didn’t recognise the Ricciardo they got back at the start of 2023, and had to set about helping him unlearn habits he’d picked up during his years with Renault and McLaren.

But untangling those habits is exactly what Red Bull did and, when the opportunity to get Ricciardo behind the wheel of the RB19 presented itself at a Pirelli tyre test last summer, he leapt at the opportunity.

It was this test that convinced Red Bull he still has what it takes to make it, rewarding him with a seat at AlphaTauri (now RB) and setting him back on his path to redemption.

Just how much of a role has this unwavering support from Red Bull helped Ricciardo rediscover his confidence?

“For me as a person, but also as a competitor, that’s been so helpful, because where I certainly started to lose some belief in myself – to have it from them kind of gave me that edge back again. I was extremely appreciative of that,” he explained.

“It did make me think about everything that brought me to this point. You go through life, whether it’s business or just life, you learn, you grow, you learn through experience.”

Having made the decision to walk away from Red Bull at the end of 2018, how much does that decision bother him in retrospect?

“It’s not that I look back and have regrets,” he said.

“But yeah, I just look back and I understand, ‘Okay, this happened for this’. And, yeah, I chose that at the time.

“But I know why I made that decision. If I thought what I thought now, would I have made a different decision? Probably.

“It doesn’t mean I regret that decision at the time, that was just where my head was at. So you could just go through it like… there’s a big understanding process through it all.

“But I’m very appreciative of the support they’ve given me. It’s not because ‘Oh, they just like me as a person’.

“That’s what I also had to kind of tell myself… it’s not just because I’m nice, and I’m good to the media, and I helped the brand or whatever.

“It’s because they know I’ve still got the pace. I showed it many years ago with them, and they believe I can still do it. So, if they believe I can do it, then I do too.”

But has the ultimate goal for a racing driver – becoming a World Champion – now passed him by?

Without securing a frontrunning seat, the dream isn’t particularly likely – so how does a driver come to terms with reconciling that fact against their own expectations and dreams?

“I think the ultimate goal is still that – I mean, who wouldn’t love to be a World Champion?” he said.

“I think just through going through this stage now… in 2022, I did think there were some races where I jumped out of the car after the race and I was like, ‘Maybe I’m never coming back to this track’. You know, maybe this is it. This is the last.

“Just being back, there’s an element that I’m just very grateful to have a second chance. But it doesn’t change.

“As grateful as I am, I would still love to be World Champion. I still want to win races and find those highs again, because that’s why we do it.

“But yeah, look, getting fourth place with this team felt like a win. So, if my career were to end with this team but I was able to pull on a string of fourth places, would I be happy? Yeah, I’d be happy.

“Is it ticking that ultimate box for me? It isn’t. But I could still walk away with my head held high. But I don’t know, even when I say that, I still feel… it’s probably like the retirement thing deep down! I believed it wouldn’t happen so when I say that, I think I’d still be okay but, deep down, I feel like there are still some things ahead for me.”

The first step towards making that possibility happen is securing a seat with the Red Bull Racing squad – perhaps reuniting with friend and former teammate Max Verstappen to rekindle the strong driver pairing the Milton Keynes-based squad had for several years.

Such a scenario is possible, given Sergio Perez’s uncertainty about continuing in his seat, but Ricciardo is a leading contender to replace the Mexican – if he’s able to drive at a convincing enough level.

Given the first quarter of 2024, does he feel ready to jump back in at RBR or has the moment come and gone already?

“Yeah, absolutely, [I’m ready],” he said.

“I don’t think it’s slipped away. Obviously, I don’t know what will happen. Of course, I need to do some things like I did in Miami and do that more often.

“But I think last year was the biggest sign I needed when I jumped in that car and, after seven, eight months on the couch, put in the lap I did. That was everything I needed.

“I just saw it with the team around me. I saw the smile on Christian’s face. It was just that big ‘What if?’ and I was able to do what we all thought I could still do and that was like okay. Obviously no guarantees, but I would love to be back there one day and we’ll see. I’ll keep pushing for it.”

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