With as much frustration as exhaustion, Daniel Ricciardo got out of his car at the Australian Grand Prix three years ago.
There was also disappointment, as this was not what a home Grand Prix was supposed to feel like.
But Ricciardo says he has learned from the experience and enters Sunday’s race at Albert Park a happy and, above all, full of energy driver.
In 2019, the pleasure of rare home comforts and the thrill that the adulation of tens of thousands of people can bring have been swept away by the weight of expectation.
Ricciardo slipped away from the track, making people happy until the race as the demands of a home Grand Prix engulfed him.
The race saw him suffer an early brainfade as he ventured onto the grass at the start and lost his front wing.
He then retired mid-race in the worst possible start to his Renault career.
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Three years later, Australia is hosting its biggest ever Grand Prix in Melbourne with record crowds pouring through the gates every day.
Ricciardo is once again the center of attention.
And yet, having learned the hard way, he cuts a calmer figure in the Albert Park paddock as he works his way to a highlights finish for McLaren.
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“It’s not a brave face,” Ricciardo told reporters after qualifying. “It’s been a really smooth weekend for a home Grand Prix. It feels a bit more relaxed than others.
“And for sure it allowed me to enjoy it more because…probably the last time I was here when we raced in 2019, I just carried a bit of frustration after the weekend because it was so packed I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it like a home race should be enjoyed.
“So we really made a point of trying to give as much time as possible while still enjoying it and always focusing on the bigger picture, making sure I could still play when the time counted. So that was really cool.
Ricciardo’s arrival at the paddock was an event in itself this week, with a 100-metre strip from the car park to the paddock lined with multi-person standing fans eager to catch a glimpse of the McLaren star.
It’s been an intense experience for the Aussie, but he says smarter moves earlier in the week put him in a better position to climax at the right time.
Asked by Foxsports.com.au what he has done differently this year compared to 2019, Ricciardo said he worked smarter, not harder.
“It’s more the commitments leading up to the weekend,” Ricciardo said. “He’s trying to be a bit more efficient.
“Instead of doing 15 different outlet interviews, try to combine a few and be more time efficient so that Tuesday and Wednesday aren’t already eight or nine hour days.
“That’s really all it is. It sounds silly, I guess you don’t know until you do it, but being with the media all the time…our response is going to be broadcast to the world, so we have to be there.
“So just having the mental energy on for eight, nine hours straight, it takes you away. Obviously I was just trying to make sure we were saving enough so I could still perform in the car.
Jokingly, he added: “Okay it was only seventh today so maybe we’re reducing it more… but it’s really just time management which is a simple way of putting it. .”
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“I AM QUIETLY CONFIDENT”
Ricciardo reached Q3 on Saturday for the first time this year and qualified a respectable seventh, while teammate Lando Norris finished fourth.
Both remain skeptical of the car’s true abilities, saying a favorable Albert Park layout is the main factor behind McLaren’s seemingly big improvement from the first two races.
Nonetheless, Ricciardo expects to be in contention with the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton – sixth and fifth respectively – when the lights go out on Sunday.
“(The car) feels good,” he said. “Mercedes is obviously not business as usual, so I think maybe we could fight with them.
“We’ll be fine tomorrow – I’m quietly confident.”
Ricciardo said the team had learned to better optimize their current package, although small improvements were made in Melbourne to boost McLaren’s chances.
“I think we’re also building good confidence with the car, being able to push it, getting closer to the limit, so that helps too,” he said.
Norris said he was “more negative” than Ricciardo but acknowledged the team had taken some small but important steps forward.
“There is a split. I think some things we did well and naturally were able to squeeze a little more performance out of the car by understanding more things and going a little bit more in a different direction with the settings,” he said. he declares.
“At the same time, I think the majority is the track; 70-30 or 80-20, with 80 (percent) being track and 20 (percent) hard work.