Daniel Ricciardo reveals tantalising gap to Max Verstappen in career-reviving Red Bull test

Thomas Maher
Christian Horner and Daniel Ricciardo smiling. Silverstone, July 2023.

Christian Horner and Daniel Ricciardo smiling. Silverstone, July 2023.

Daniel Ricciardo re-ignited his F1 career with a hugely impressive test with Red Bull earlier this year, but just how good was it?

Two days after the British Grand Prix, Red Bull handed one of their RB19s to Ricciardo for a Pirelli tyre test, with the eight-time Grand Prix winner taking on the role of reserve with his former team after being dropped by McLaren after two poor seasons.

Ricciardo’s speed on the day was such that, mere hours later, Red Bull made the tough call to drop Nyck de Vries from his seat at AlphaTauri in order to slot the Australian in – Ricciardo having since been given a full-time contract for 2024 to re-ignite his stalled F1 career.

Daniel Ricciardo opens up on crucial Red Bull test

While it was later revealed that Ricciardo’s speed had not been far off Max Verstappen’s time to take pole position for the British Grand Prix a few days prior, although the exact Pirelli compounds Ricciardo was using were not revealed – the Australian has revealed he just a hundredths of a second away from Verstappen’s time.

Speaking to the Beyond the Grid podcast and reflecting on the day that revitalised his career, Ricciardo opened up on the story of his RB19 test.

“The simulator stuff was going well. I was, let’s say, heavily invested again. My enthusiasm, I’m sure – that gets passed along,” he said, after spending several months working in the sim after re-signing for Red Bull in his role as a third driver.

“Christian [Horner] is checking in as well. If he’s not checking in directly with me, he’s checking in with Simon [Rennie] ‘How’s Daniel going? What do you think? What do you see? Is it the old Daniel?’ All of this.

“There was obviously word of a Pirelli test. I think I might have even asked, I said, ‘Look, I would love to drive this car’. Because, OK, yes, it’s a very fast car but it’s also a car that I wanted to know if it was still familiar for me. It was still something that could bring my confidence back.

“Through a little bit of this, then, ‘Oh, there’s a test in Silverstone after the race’. It was probably just ‘Would you like to do it?’ And I said ‘absolutely’.

“That also gave me a bit of a target to work to in terms of making sure that I was fit and strong again and blah, blah, blah. I think I liked that as well, having a little bit of a goal.

“So, during Silverstone race weekend, I was there as a reserve driver or third driver. On the Sunday, you know when the drivers do their laps to grid and then come back, and have that little bit of a break before going out for the anthem, I already started to mentally put myself in that position again.

“Because I knew, if this test went well, things could change quickly. So then the test was… I was certainly a little bit nervous. But ultimately, I was excited. Some of the nerves were because, by July, I was at a point where I really had my confidence back. I really believed I could do a great test.

“So a little bit of nerves was knowing that, deep down, I knew I could do it. So it was just ‘OK, it’s up to you now, this is in your hands’. Honestly, your future could hang on this test, it was good to feel that pressure again.

“That was important as well, I wasn’t pushing it back, I was embracing it again, and all these things that I used to really thrive off, I was getting it back.

“So I did the test and, on the first run, I actually spun twice. In Turn 4, I had a spin. So a very low-speed spin, just a little bit eager on the throttle. Then I had a spin in Turn 7, I think, so another slow-speed… again, I did a tiny little loop and got it going. It wasn’t like I was in the gravel or anything.

“But even that, I spun but I was OK with it. I wasn’t like ‘Oh man, what are you doing?’ Like I didn’t get in my head. I was just like, ‘Oh well, it makes sense, I haven’t driven in seven, eight, nine months’, whatever it was.

“So, even the way I brushed it off, I think it was really good for me because it didn’t faze me. So then I got back going and I started to put in some good times. Also, the very, very first time I went through Turn 1 flat, I thought my helmet was going to fly off my head, you forget how intense it is on your body, and how fast these cars are.

“That was also really cool to feel it again, because it made me really respect it. Yeah, so I did the first run with those couple of spins and came back in, I did maybe eight laps or something, maybe 10.

“So we put some new tyres on. We put FP2 fuel [levels] in the car. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The first timed lap I did was on the money. Take the fuel out to put it to quali fuel and it was a few hundredths off Max’s pole time.”

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With podcast host Tom Clarkson pointing out that Ricciardo’s lap was enough to have Helmut Marko reaching for the phone to make changes even before he’d returned to the garage, the Australian said the lap had had him smiling from ear to ear under his helmet.

“Coming into that lap, I was so excited,” he laughed.

“I treated it, obviously, like a qualifying lap. 15 minutes earlier, I felt like my head was gonna fall off in Turn 1. So I was like, am I even gonna be able to push on new tyres and do all this?

“I just had that feeling in the car and that confidence and people will say ‘Yeah, but you spun twice’. Of course, I was a little rusty to start. But there were elements of the car that felt so familiar, that I knew that, ‘OK, a new set of tyres, we’ll take a bit of fuel out of it. I kind of just knew what it could do and what it was capable of.

“I’m not gonna say it was easy or effortless. But I had a lot of confidence in it, that it could do what I thought it could and, crossing the line, when I looked at the time, I was like, ‘Oh I don’t know if I was expecting to go that quick’.

“I knew the day had the potential to be a really good day. But I’d be lying if I said I was going to do that time, pretty much my first lap with new tyres. That was kind of wild. So it gave me a very big smile.

“Christian was there. He was really good because like, even coming into the day, he was just like, ‘Look, mate, obviously, we’re going to be looking at you and seeing how you perform. But I just want to see you having fun again’.

“He goes, ‘I really felt like you were missing that. Obviously, we all know what you can do when you’re enjoying it and at your best’. So he basically just said I just want to see that smile on your face. And he certainly saw that!”

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