Daniel Ricciardo has admitted his race preparation for the races leading up to the summer break may have been affected by the stressful process of deciding to leave Red Bull which often left him struggling for sleep.
The Australian shocked Formula One when he announced he would be joining Renault in 2019 when most expected him to be staying with the Milton Keynes outfit or at least making the swap to Ferrari, whom he was heavily linked with joining.
That announcement came in the week following the Hungarian Grand Prix, during the mid-season break, shortly after a drop-off in performances following a blistering start to the season which saw him claim wins in Monaco and China.
His three races in the lead-up to the Hungarian Grand Prix saw two retirements and a fifth-place – the results at a time when he was talking to plenty of other teams and weighing up his future.
And in an interview with ESPN, Ricciardo has admitted for the first time that the strain of that decision had more of an impact on him mentally that he initially realised.
“At time, I didn’t think so,” Ricciardo told ESPN. “I feel like even if I was to, say, trip and fall over on the way to the car and scratch all my arm, by the time I got in the car it would be blacked out in my head.
“I guess what would have affected – which you probably don’t think at a time – is when you’re away from the track and instead of getting eight hours sleep a night, you’re getting six hours sleep because your brain is ticking… for sure this has some form of an accumulated affect.
“Again, I think I am stronger than that and when I get in the car I am sweet, I am switched on, but maybe it did take a little bit away from me without me knowing.
“For sure there were nights where I didn’t sleep as I should have because I had a lot on my mind. Then that builds up and I was probably not as sharp as I once was.”
“You’ve got to use that confidence wisely because it can bite you as well,” he said. “I’ve certainly always enjoyed coming here and I feel I’ve always come here with a bit of that [swagger], and up until last year a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I got rid of that last year.
“I am aware this year that the challenge will be bigger but I’m still quietly confident and I’ll use that confidence and hopefully wisdom around here to my advantage.”
Elsewhere, Mercedes are expected to do well again, with their car touted as the most suited to Monaco’s unique circuit.
However, Monaco is an unpredictable place and the rest of the field are hoping for an upset of the form guide.
Track schedule (AEST):
Practice 1: 19.00-20.30
Practice 2: 23.00-00.30
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Twelve months is a long time in sport – just asked Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
At the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, as usual, the Red Bull drivers were the centre of attention for huge PR and media opportunities on the team’s private boat.
Ricciardo was catching footballs thrown by NFL’s GOAT Tom Brady while standing on a yacht in the harbour as Spice Girl Geri Halliwell commentated over the microphone and supermodel Bella Hadid watched on.
Verstappen was going into the race weekend as the red-hot favourite to claim his first victory there with a Red Bull 1-2 widely tipped.
However, the Dutchman’s weekend unravelled dramatically after a huge crash at Turn 16 in FP3 meant his car was damaged beyond repair and would not be ready for him to compete in qualifying. He was forced to start from the back and was given a 15-place grid penalty.
Ricciardo, whose hands were likely still carrying the gold dust from that Brady pass, topped all three practice and qualifying sessions and set a new track record to boot.
“Redemption”, muttered the Australian as he crossed the chequered flag first, referring to 2016 where he was so cruelly robbed of what should have been his first Monaco win after a blundered pitstop.
The celebrations were huge this time, his smile wider than ever seen before and that swan dive into the Red Bull pool instantly becoming one of Formula One’s most iconic images.
But somewhere in the background was Verstappen, smiling through gritted teeth and trying to be happy for his gleaming, champagne-soaked teammate.
“I should have won that race,” Verstappen said on Netflix documentary Drive to Survive. “Seeing the whole team happy… it’s hard because standing there you have to try and smile and be happy.
“But for me it was definitely the worst moment. I could literally break down the whole energy station by myself.”
Unbelievably, this was the turning point of both men’s careers.
Since, by his own admission, the best moment of his career to date, Ricciardo has not graced any step of the podium and suffered eight retirements in his next 20 grands prix.
His ‘one step back, two steps forward’ plan by joining Renault for 2019 has looked more like ‘three steps back, we will step forward in the future’.
However, for Verstappen the last 12 months have been the making of him.
For the remaining 15 races of 2018, he was only not on the podium on four occasions and has not finished lower than fourth since Russia last year – a run of 10 grands prix.
He has shunned his ‘Max Mad’ demeanour and has added more controlled aggression and maturity to his game to become arguably Mercedes’ biggest threat this season, despite Ferrari’s more competitive car.
Now, 12 months on from that memorable day in 2018, Verstappen returns to Monaco as many experts’ pick to end the Mercedes monopoly this season and to continue to bolster his own reputation, despite Monaco being, statistically, his worst track.
Ricciardo comes in to the race in a similarly bullish mood to what he did a year ago, optimistic that his swagger and experience can shine through on what is, statistically, his favourite track.
Both men arrive in the principality very different men to the two that arrived in 2018, Verstappen with far broader shoulders and Ricciardo without the chip he has been carrying on his since his 2016 disaster.
And both will hope Monaco is again the catalyst for change in Formula One.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel insists “anything can happen” at this weekend’s Monaco GP – with favourites Mercedes staying “cautious” about their chances at F1’s most-famous street race.
Mercedes arrive in the Principality on a record run of five consecutive one-twos from the start of the season and, now armed with a car that is excelling in slow corners, are considered the team to beat here.
However, Monaco has not proved the happiest of recent hunting ground F1’s five-time champions.
Mercedes last claimed pole in 2015 while their last victory, Lewis Hamilton’s in 2016, was fortunate after a Red Bull pit-stop blunder.
Mercedes have since seen Ferrari dominate in 2017 and then Red Bull lead from the front with Daniel Ricciardo last year, leaving Vettel to believe quirky Monaco could change 2019’s early-season formbook.
“This track is unique and anything can happen this weekend,” said Vettel, who trails championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 48 points.
“It’s probably irrelevant what the paper might say or the form of the last five races might suggest. Coming here anything can happen.”
It is a wait-and-see stance also being adopted by the world champions themselves.
“We are still a bit cautious because it is a very unique track,” Valtteri Bottas told Sky Sports F1. “Last year we had a one-two in Barcelona but we were unable to do that here.
“I think we’ve again learned lessons and hopefully made the car better. I look forward to and it’s a race where I really want to do well.”
Meanwhile, what of last year’s impressive victors?
Red Bull have often been the team to beat in Monte Carlo with their high-downforce package – with now-Renault man Ricciardo claiming pole and victory last season – but this year it appears the Honda-powered team now have a stronger engine, but weaker chassis.
Instead, Max Verstappen believes Mercedes, who have frequently struggled in Monaco, come into this year’s showpiece with the quickest car for a narrow circuit.
“Mercedes is clearly the favourite,” Verstappen said. “I don’t think we are as good as we were last year.
“I’m confident we can fight for the podium but we have to find out which step of the podium. Personally I don’t think [we can fight Mercedes]. We should target a podium.
“Of course I want to fight for victory but at the moment I think the package they have is just a bit too strong. We’ll give it our very best and hopefully find a good setup, and then you never know.”
Verstappen’s own Monaco record is strangely underwhelming, with a fifth-place finish his best result in four attempts. Instead, it has been the Dutchman’s crashes into the barriers – two in 2015, one in 2016 and one in 2018 – which have instead made the headlines here.
“I’ve done four, hopefully I’ll do another 20. So I have a lot of chances to have a good result,” insisted the Dutchman, currently in a rich vein of form.
“Sometimes you have to make mistakes to become a better driver. This was one of them.”
This article was taken from Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.