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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer
Daniel Ricciardo went through that which could best be described as a dark night of the spirit.
After the passing of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Renault driver moved back to his hotel and questioned whether it was all worth it. The answer did not come readily, however the Australian hurried Spa on Sunday.
Four days on, he sits with BBC Sport at the onset of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, and delves deep into what it requires to get a racing driver to face his fears and race on in such difficult conditions.
“I definitely challenged it,” that the 30-year-old Australian claims. “The reality is, I do love it a lot. Racing did believe appropriate in the finish. Although I did not really wish to, after I did it, it was like, OK, this actually feels right and normal.”
For a very long time over past weekend, however, it felt anything but normal.
“When you are a child and you see it on TV, and you’re not current or not part of it,” Ricciardo states,”it still seems like there is some form of distance, or even a disconnection to what has happened.
“But if you’re there and it occurs to one of your colleagues, also it’s in precisely exactly the identical race, it seems more real, and it’s like:’OK, that actually can happen to anyone, and it’s here, it’s current today.’
“The realisation of us not being fine does put in. I understand my parents stress for me – you know, watching me race and traveling the world every few days and now being on a plane. You just question it: is it really worth putting not only myself but household below the same quantity of pressure?”
At night of the crash, Ricciardo says, he”didn’t get much sleep, and so you’re asking yourself questions, probably only fighting just a tiny piece with some anger and a shame of’why,’ you know?
“And then also battling a few of the feelings of if I really get up and race tomorrow? Is it the perfect thing to do morally? Can it be the ideal thing to do for me?
“And I kind of did think:’Let us see how I feel by lunchtime, and when I’m still having any doubts then maybe the most powerful thing for me is to not race.’
“I sort of wanted to play it by ear. Just working through all these scenarios:’What should I really feel? Imagine if that?’
“From Sunday morning, I had a little more clarity. I wake up preparing myself and did manage to sleep just a bit. However, it still felt weird and cold. It didn’t feel right to become eager to race to be pleased to know there. It felt tick off the minutes and find the job done.
“The lead-up to the race, so I would probably only describe it as not really fun in conditions of just it was tough to attempt to go through the moves and undergo a routine when that’s occurred less than 24 hours past. In addition, you know, drivers’ parade and all that, you are turning to fans, but you do not feel grinning or being happy, I guess.
“It was difficult, just trying to enter the zone, simply hoping to get any kind of rhythm.
“Getting in the car on Sunday was not effortless, but it had been more of a sadness than a fear and I think that it was significant I found that. If I was getting in the vehicle with a pure degree of fear, then it would not happen to be smart for me . I did know that it was just a sadness.”
“After we sort of got moving, it actually felt like fairly good launch. It felt like a de-stress, simply rival and racing. Only going at those speeds, it was just like flushing the machine and that felt great.
“Following the race, for certain I was still glad that it was done but I did feel much better than I did 2 hours before that.
“I’ll be honest, the race has been fun. It was great to be out there. And as far as I was excited about seeing the flag, I’d like a race Sunday.”
The race, he states, acted as a form of catharsis.
“If something happens, you have simply go to dip into it, and that’s the ideal method of overcoming it. And I believe that’s exactly what the race has been for us. I told myself things ‘Only go once possible. Leave on the pits and go, and try to get into that mode already. Don’t tip-toe around. Don’t places.’
“I recall I got out of the pits, drifted out, and forced myself to get in that mindset straight away.”
That can be a reference to his ideas about going throughout Raidillon, where Hubert needed his crash. It’s part of the infamous Eau Rouge swerves, a left-hander over the brow of a hill taken out in more than 180mph.
“I told myself’Go full throttle, and just don’t over-think this corner, don’t over-think any of it’ Out of these pits… maintained it full. It felt good to get out there and do that although This was a relief. And that told me that I was ready to go.
“I think if I had been, big lift and scared, then that would be a sign that maybe I should not be on the track at this time. I suppose I needed to do this to check myself and then it felt right.”
Can he speak to the other motorists about it?
“I got to speak to a few. This year I just met Anthoine. The Renault Academy boys spent a great deal of time with him and that I watched them Sunday morning. I spoke to a few of these Saturday night as well over text.
“They had done training camps collectively. They’re a household. They’re younger. That is where I felt I could try and be a little bit of, even in some ways, a father figure to them and comfort them. They had been, although I had been feeling it. We gave a kiss to each other on Sunday morning. We tried to chat over it a bit.
“And with the other drivers, I spoke to a few of them, but before the race you can see everyone sort of wanted to be in their own.
“Waiting to the driver parade, we’re just standing there. There were several handshakes or hugs however, you could sort of tell everyone was just trying to prepare for the race and it was a difficult one. Following the race, I talked to mostly the French motorists, who I understood were nearest to Anthoine.”
Hubert is not the driver Ricciardo has understood who was killed. The F1 driver was that the Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who suffered fatal head injuries in a crash in the 2014 Western Grand Prix. Ricciardo had come up through the rankings and they had been close friends.
“Jules’ [departure ] hit me quite difficult,” Ricciardo states. “In a sense, not disrespecting it, I was really amazed how difficult it’s hit me. I didn’t expect it to hit on me hard and for this to survive – the despair and the hurt from that extended over a period.
“With past weekend, you think time type of remedies everything, and it was like, OK, nothing has happened for a while and with good reason. The game’s got safer and we are in a location that was fantastic. And then it occurs. And it’s a jolt.
“It is an anger that it has happened again. We thought we’d moved on from this. It is when it is refreshed on your head again and it is there in front of you, it is hard not to take it with difficulty.”
Has it changed his view?
“Originally, it did alter. Time does cure it. Those initial emotions that are extreme did slowly fizzle out.
“Together with the Jules one, I felt as though my goal and intent then was,’OK, when we are going to strap ourselves to those cars, and if we’re all mindful of the hazard, it doesn’t make sense to go in half-heartedly. If we are going to do it, go in, and allow it to be worthwhile.’
“I felt just like Jules’ passing kind of made me embrace the racer more so. And to be honest that this will probably wind up having the exact same effect.
“I did not have that kind of fear in the race. And until that fear steps in, I use it. However many years I do it, at least I could say I did it right.”
It can be tough to understand how a racing motorist can compartmentalise their anxieties this way, or even the uniqueness of the type of character required to perform a job they know will kill them, but to move ahead and do it anyway because they appreciate it so much that they can’t stop.
Can Ricciardo explain what causes F1 drivers capable to live with this contradiction?
He pauses for a few seconds.
“Actually I get goosebumps,” he states,”because I don’t actually know how or why.
“On Saturday night, I felt in no position to drive a race car around precisely the exact identical track the next moment. But even getting out of the pits and moving through Raidillon and all that, it was weird how ordinary and natural it felt. And I can not explain that.
“It’s probably just when you’ve got a deep fascination and love to get something, that is the result. I surprised myself In all honesty. And we did Sunday.
“I didn’t expect to enjoy any part of the race, so no matter where I finished. However, I really do enjoy being out there, which rush of hurrying. Yes, it was in your mind, needless to say. But how we are in a position to put it I can not explain how or why. It does surprise me”
Ricciardo is known for his gung-ho style, and his attacking victories, frequently made possible by on-the-edge overtaking moves where he yells the car down the inside of a competitor in an impossible space back. How does the risks be rationalised by him, on knowing that an accident is always a possibility, carry?
“You have got to at all times control the controllables,” he states. “In my own case, I guess not become reckless.
“Following the race at times you may see me provide a driver the finger or show my sort of anger. However, I’ve tried to teach myself become reckless, basically and to not let the emotion take more than the driver at the race.
“Yes, I’ve tried some late overtakes in my time and I have done some moves that might seem risky, but there is always a degree of control and calculation in that and it’s never done only on emotion.
“So I will not let myself get irresponsible or put myself in a situation I do not have to be in. Yes, I’d like to take risks and be on that line that is . But be sensible enough to not over-step it and also I believe I’m in a position to do that.
“From this point of view, I am comfortable hopping in the car. There failures and stuff’s thing that may go wrong. That’s an uncontrollable from my own side. Can’t really consider these. And in the event you know they are there and current times, when you set on the helmet and get going, you don’t think about doing it.
“It’s one of those things that if it occurs in the incorrect place or the incorrect corner, then what exactly do you do? You’ve got to put that motive on mind that it could have happened on the way to the circuit, so it could have happened on the road.”
It is for racing drivers to talk about the possibility of death and danger publicly rare.
Safety is discussed each weekend at F1, but it’s normally on an abstract level – everything can people do about this trap, or this obstruction?
Hubert’s departure has brought it front and center. Is it hard is it to talk about it?
“Obviously it is difficult to deal with something that’s genuine and has happened,” Ricciardo states,”however, it does help to talk about it. Having the comfort of everyone else and being around the grid and speaking to some of the other drivers… yeah, it’s not fun speaking about it, but additionally, it can help alleviate any emotions or feelings.
“I guess just knowing that you’re in precisely exactly the same boat with someone else, realizing that you’re not lonely feeling the way you do, that helps.
“So being part of a team or a neighborhood. That has been in which you realisethere are rivalries or anything, but a rivalry on track doesn’t say how much most of us have in common and how far we really do really feel and care for each other.
“It is hard but it will feel nice to get a portion of it off your chest.”
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