Daniel Ricciardo Is Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

MIAMI – Before we’ve even really started talking, Daniel Ricciardo has to double-check something. He picks up my phone, looks at the app, and makes sure it didn’t stop recording.

“I just wanted to make sure,” he says. “It’s happened before, and that’s not fun.”

It’s that extra second, that care, that attention to detail that makes the fervor over Danny Ric so understandable. The bonafide breakout star of Drive To Survive, Ricciardo’s wide smile as well as his “yes, and…” personality endeared him to millions, especially stateside. But it’s his curiosity that’s allowed him to navigate what could have been (and still likely is) the most challenging year of his career: one in which he wasn’t actively racing weekly around the globe.

Ricciardo parted ways with McLaren and has spent this season as an alternate/reserve on the Red Bull team — which is dominating the points standings between Max Verstappen and Sergio “Checo” Pérez. And while the time off the track has been difficult, he’s leaning in, much like his Honey Badger persona on the track. Nothing Ricciardo does is half-assed; whether that’s doing a 10-minute interview at the Heineken Garden, going to the Met Gala, appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, or learning slapshots from Olympian Hilary Knight.

While some drivers shy away from the constant attention that comes with F1 glory, Ricciardo seems to realize it could all go away in an instant. And this year is a reminder that even if it does, driving doesn’t define him, and shouldn’t.

Uproxx Sports got the opportunity to speak with Ricciardo on behalf of Heineken Silver, which was omnipresent at the Miami GP in the runup to November’s Vegas race, featuring everything from DJ sets by Austin Millz (and others) to gondola rides above the track. Ricciardo spoke at length about the impact this year has had on him, how he’s finding a way to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and more.

I just really have appreciated your approach to being as open as you are and showcasing who you are. I don’t imagine you can do it any other way. Where did that come from for you in wanting to show that authenticity and the opportunities that you’ve had? Is that something that’s become more comfortable for you as the years have gone on?

I think, yeah, it’s definitely the most, I would say comfortable — that’s a good word — comfortable way of navigating this journey, this career. Because when I got into Formula 1, yeah I was a little bit intimidated by the environment. It seemed like a much more serious environment than my personality kind of thing.

So obviously you have to find your place. And yeah, I came in, I was still quite young and probably immature. So yeah, you have to kind of be a grown-up. But I was like, I also want to let my personality come through because that’s me. And I think that’s also the version of me that doesn’t drain as much energy, which lets me thrive. And yeah, I felt like there was also, as much as I loved F1, I felt like there were a lot of drivers over the time that were a little bit kind of reserved or timid. And I don’t know, I was just most comfortable being myself, and I thought it would also resonate well with people watching or fans or maybe encourage other drivers to loosen up a little bit. So part of it was conscious, but I just knew ultimately it was going to be the best thing for me moving forward to get the most out of myself.

And then you look at what happened with Drive To Survive and seeing drivers say, “Oh, well, we can be ourselves, we can be a little bit less reserved.” Maybe the learning curve was a little steeper for some of them, but for you to be so natural with that, and then to see guys start to show who they were, which is more than just drivers. They’ve got their passions, they’ve got personalities, they’ve got friction, which is okay. It’s okay to show that sometimes, but to kind of take that cap off, take that lens off a little bit, and then to have that happen. Is that something that you relish not just being one of the faces of that show, but also kind of ushering in a new era of F1?

Yeah, absolutely. I definitely look at where the sport is today and where it was maybe 10 years ago. And it’s changed a lot. And yeah, everyone feels much more comfortable letting their personality come out. And it’s not something I ever kind of want a pat on the back for, but even doing the shoey on the podium, just doing something a little bit silly, I think that just was a way for everyone to be like, “Alright, we can enjoy the little wins and we can celebrate, and we don’t have to be this hard arse character the whole time.” And yeah, I see other drivers now speak more about their passions and other things they’re interested in. And it’s cool. I think as well with the show, you want to be open because you also want, yes, it’s great to share your success and talk about it, but also when you’re struggling, it’s nice to let people know that this isn’t a game.

We put a lot of hours and effort into this. And so for me, just showing everything, or at least as much as you can within reason, it’s also relatable where people can also, they can cheer for you and they can feel sympathy for you, but they can also then relate to their life as well and things that they go through.

And yes, we might do this crazy thing and drive these cars at crazy speeds, but we’re also human. And I think sometimes, me growing up, I’d look at people and be like, “Oh, that’s a superhero. That’s not a real person.” But truth is, we all are real people and go through real things. So just trying to get all these messages through I think is important. But yeah, I say that now it’s like I’m thinking about it, but it’s when the camera’s there and they’re just asking me things like, that’s just whatever’s coming to mind, that’s just me. And trying to just be my most authentic self because there are a lot of interviews we do, or even after a race, you’re thanking sponsors, you’re doing this. I feel like the DTS has allowed us just to talk a bit more freely without the script, if you will.

Having the year that you’ve had, you go on Colbert and you have the Met Gala and you have all these things that are personal accomplishments and they’ve got to be really, really enjoyable. But you’re also in this stage where you’re kind of in a transitional period of a crossroads trying to figure out “What’s next for me?” How do you enjoy that moment while still staying committed to trying to be who you want to be on the track too, but also relishing the opportunity? A lot of people don’t get that chance mid-career where you’re focused and maybe you don’t get time to enjoy life. You seem like you always enjoy life, but when you get that extra opportunity to do so and it doesn’t seem like you’re any worse the wear for it.

Yeah, that was one kind of commitment I wanted to make to myself this year was like, “I want to tick boxes. I want to do some little bucket listings and not feel guilty for it.” Because I was kind of like, “Look, maybe I do get back in a seat next year, maybe then I’m in a seat for the next five years.” So I’m kind of like, if I don’t do some of these things this year, then who knows, maybe five years down the track I’ve got kids, I’ve got a family, and maybe I’ll never do them. I want to do things that I’ve got the time to do this year. I’m not going to make myself feel guilty about it. They’re going to be life experiences. It’s going to maybe challenge me or put me out there. And even things like we talked about it actually, even last year, a few of my friends did a marathon, the New York Marathon or something. And it’s like, that would be cool to do. So that’s now something I’m thinking about.

Look for these things, yeah. It’d be just these cool life experiences where I know if I was racing this year, that’s not even a thing I would contemplate. I just wouldn’t have the time to dedicate to something like that. Yeah, and these are self-fulfilling. And even a marathon, for example, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about myself running 26 miles and I’ll have to dig deep and it’ll probably make me think about next year and how badly I want it. So trying to draw a lot of positives from these experiences as well.

And then you’d mentioned, I watched the Vogue video, that that was one of those times where you were uncomfortable, but for the right reasons. Are there other opportunities or things that have come up recently where you did feel uncomfortable? But it’s a good thing to sometimes be uncomfortable to have that friction where “I’m trying something different,” or “Man, I didn’t imagine I’d be at the Met Gala,” or “I didn’t imagine I’d be at Stephen Colbert. I’m a driver.” A lot of these, that’s what you grow up wanting to do, it’s the passion, thing you love, but getting to do that uncomfortability. It’s not even something you necessarily think about sometimes, but if you don’t challenge yourself, like you said, you can’t put yourself in a place where you learn something. But as long as you’re learning, you’re growing. And it seems like this has been a huge year of growth.

Those things as well, if it’s going on a talk show or something, yeah I get nervous before it. Even if when I’m on, let’s say live, I might look really comfortable and I think maybe then I do feel more comfortable. But leading up to it, yeah, I’m kind of shooting myself. But that also, getting those nerves and those butterflies, it also makes you feel kind of special and alive.

And also, I’m aware of how many doors this world opens, and I’m like yes, I could just be that straightforward, serious racer and just racing, racing for the next 10 years. But I’m also like, okay, then yeah, I’ll have probably a cool racing career to talk about, but there’s all these other things that I could experience and learn about myself. And yeah, even going on those shows, I learned how to maybe breathe better and control my nerves and be more comfortable talking to ultimately a stranger in public, yeah. So I’m all about the life experiences. I’m all about saying yes, obviously there’s a time and place and sometimes I’ll have to say no. But in a year like this, I want to say yes to as much as possible. And ultimately, as you say, just learn and grow.

And then last one for you, I’ve seen how you’ve interacted with fans in the past, even I’ve seen how you’ve treated everyone here working with big brands like Heineken Silver and Red Bull over here, but you’re talking to everybody. Celebrities pop up all the time, but the way that you always make eye contact, you shake hands, you take the pictures. That resonates with people. Arnold Palmer used to say, “You only get one first introduction. You have one chance to make a first impression on someone.” And I’ve kind of thought about that a lot over the last few years. What is it about that first impression and who taught you that? Where did that come from? Because that’s not always the case with guys when you get to that level.

Yeah, definitely a little bit of my upbringing in terms of respect and I think my parents taught me well. Shake people’s hands, look them in the eye, that sort of stuff. But I think as well, it was probably through a bit of experience. I’ve been in situations before where maybe someone comes up to me, but I’m also with four other people and they’re just like, they look at me, they shake my hand, and the four other people are invisible.

And I feel awkward because I feel bad for the others. Because I’ve also been that guy where someone talks to the person next to me and they’re like, I’m invisible. And it’s just, I know how uncomfortable I feel in that situation. So I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re a stranger. They’ve done no wrong by me, so I want to treat everyone equally. Like okay. Just because that person there is a celebrity and the person next to them isn’t, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same feelings. So yeah, also just through probably being put in some situations that I didn’t really like, I was conscious to try to not put people in those situations.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity. Dime was invited on a hosted trip to the F1 Miami GP through Heineken for reporting on this piece. However, Heineken did not review or approve this story in any way. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.