Even if you’re not into your racing, you’ll doubtless have come across Daniel Ricciardo, the 28 year old Australian-Italian F1 driver who’s known for being one of the most upbeat figures on the grid. He’s racked up five race wins, 27 podiums, one pole position and nine fastest laps, all while being lauded as one of the sport’s nicest guys. In the flesh he’s rugged, smiley, and the epitome of chilled-out cool.
Even so, he’s feeling the pressure ahead of tomorrow’s Australian F1 kick-off. ‘I wanted to head over to Australia a little early to switch off before the chaos begins. Of course, I love being back home, but its stressful being on home turf, too – and intense.’
He sounds jittery, which is natural before a big race. But, he pauses for a moment and the optimism he’s so known for seems to kick back in. ‘It definitely adds pressure, but it’s positive pressure. There’s nothing about it that brings me down, I’ve just got to be smart about how much I give this weekend, and make sure I save some energy.’
“You can be at the top of your game without being the most intense person in the world”
This is a wise move, because tomorrow is likely to be a tough gig. During yesterday’s practice race, Ricciardo racked up a three-place grid penalty, and although he put in an impressive performance during the Red Bull’s testing spell in March, he’s yet to really put this year’s car through its paces.
‘While we were testing in Barcelona, it was so cold that it was tough to get the tyre temperatures up to any kind of working temperature, so even when I was quick, we had to accept that I wasn’t going to be racing in those conditions – I haven’t read too much into it.’
It’s a surprising perspective from a driver that’s known for being so relaxed, but it also belies the complexity of Ricciardo’s character – like all top sportsmen, beneath the glamorous exterior, there’s a will to compete that can be tough to control.
‘If you want to get to the top in any sport, you need a ruthless streak in you,’ he admits. ‘There are times when you’re going to have to get your elbows out, so to speak. If I was as nice on the track as I am off it, I wouldn’t be where I am.
‘Growing up, my heroes were Senna, Timo Bernhard and Valentino Rossi. I loved their tenacity on the track. They were ruthless – I mean, Bernhard’s nickname was ‘The Intimidator’ – but but off the track they were loved by everyone.’
It’s not hard to see why Ricciardo admires these men: they ring true to his own racing philosophy. ‘I admired how Rossi could best the best in the world and have fun with it. He proved that you can be at the top of your game, without having to be the most intense person in the world.’
Clearly, Ricciardo practises what he preaches, because even with his eyes firmly set on the Grand Prix, he’s just launched a capsule collection with Orlebar Brown; three quirky pairs of Bulldog swim shorts featuring prints with a personal significance. ‘We tried to come up with motifs that relate to places I enjoy travelling to. The Monaco print ‘snap shorts’ were a no-brainer because of its F1 significance, but I’ve been visiting Texas for a few years now, and I love it. It’s quite weird in a cool way – I wanted the shorts to have something on there that communicated that.
‘They’re not the most conventional looking OB’s, but I think they speak volumes. They’re printed with fun illustrations of beef ribs and cowboy boots, and the honey badger [Ricciardo’s chosen mascot] – and I love how tailored they look. I discovered the brand when some English friends wore them on holiday a few years back, and I thought, “damn, I’ve gotta get myself a pair of these.”’
“There always needs to be a balance in life. Finding another passion can help you perform”
The shorts make quite a statement, no question, but they’re packed with personality; doing justice both to Ricciardo and Orlebar Brown. They’ve also succeeded in communicating what makes the racing driver such a compelling figure in sport. He’s larger than life, but grounded and a strategic thinker at the same time.
‘I took the first few years of my career very seriously, and I let it take over from the enjoyment in what I do’, says Ricciardo, surprisingly stoic. ‘A few years ago I realised that I needed to have more fun. I travel all over the world and get to do what I love – and when I made that mental switch, I began to enjoy this journey a whole lot more. I think that’s shown in my performance on the track, too.
‘There always needs to be a balance in life. Sure, the priority might have to be your profession, and you might need to be prepared to get ahead sometimes, but that doesn’t mean spending every hour of the day focussing on work. Finding another passion really can help you perform.’
What then is Ricciardo’s other passion, apart from swim shorts? ‘Music is a big thing’, he says. ‘I listen to everything from super-chilled stuff like Bon Iver, through to hard-core metal, or electro. Watching someone perform live is pretty special when it’s the only thing to focus on for a couple of hours, without any emails or thoughts of work. Everyone should do that.’
Ricciardo’s three pairs of limited edition Bulldog swim shorts are available now, £225/£195, orlebarbrown.com