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BENEATH the widest smile in sport, the shoeys and the cheeky one-liners, Daniel Ricciardo is ice cold.
You obviously don’t reach the pinnacle of any sport — but particularly an individual one — without boasting a killer instinct, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how competitive the Aussie F1 star really is because he’s so laid back.
But if we needed any proof of just how driven Ricciardo is to win, we only need to look at his reflections from his win at the Chinese Grand Prix two weekends ago.
An engine blow out in practice made him worry he wouldn’t even get out on the track for qualifying but some miracle working by his engineers ensured he avoided disaster. Then on Sunday he worked his way up from sixth on the grid into first with 11 laps to go — a position he maintained to record his sixth career victory.
We’ve seen him explode with excitement after impressive performances before but even Ricciardo was surprised by his restraint in Shanghai. He took the lead but knew there was still a job to be done — and nothing was going to distract him from finishing it.
“I went dead silent on the radio from there (working his way into second). I basically didn’t say anything until I got past (Valtteri) Bottas for the lead, and then I probably carried on a bit,” Ricciardo wrote in a column for Red Bull Racing.
“But I was really calm, which might be a surprise — you might think I’d be so full of adrenaline or aggression or whatever, and be a bit hyper.
“I knew what could be done, and just had to get it done. I’m fired up, sure, but Shanghai was just crazy calm for some reason.
“I knew what I needed to do and didn’t get overly excited about it, and I’d doubt my heart rate got above 120 (beats per minute) for that run from sixth to first. I felt super-chilled in there.”
Ricciardo was so surprised by how quickly he got to the front and because he’d been so focused on overtaking people, had no idea how many laps remained when he took the lead. His race engineer told him there were 11 laps left and even though his mind could have played tricks on him, nothing was going to stop the 28-year-old from crossing the line first.
“I pushed initially to create a gap, but then started managing it, and that’s when your mind can start to wander,” Ricciardo wrote. “You have all this adrenaline after a carrot like a race win gets dangled in front of you, and then it’s like, ‘What now?’
“Driving on the limit is easier. You’re much more present. The day before, we’d had the turbo failure, so every time I started on that long back straight in China on those last 11 laps I was thinking, ‘I hope I don’t hear any funny noises like yesterday …’
“When you start to cruise and manage a gap, you think about that sort of thing. When I was hunting the others down, not once.”
The win in China was just the tonic Ricciardo needed after a disappointing time in Bahrain the weekend before when a car failure forced him to retire. That result drained the Red Bull star of confidence but he never stopped believing.
“I always believe in myself and I believe I can do it, but you have a race like Bahrain and you’re thinking that no matter how hard you work, it can be taken away, and that can be massively frustrating and really get to you,” he wrote.
“I know it’s not personal and it’s out of my control, but it can still take a toll. Saturday morning in China with the engine (failure), it didn’t look like we were going to get out for qualifying at all, but the boys did an amazing job and we just made it.
“And then out of nowhere you win, everyone’s going nuts … It was a whole mix of things that left me happy and made me emotional at the same time.
“Being able to prove that the belief I still have in myself and what I can do when I’m given the chance means something, so it was all of those things wrapped into one.”
It didn’t take long for talk about Ricciardo’s win to evaporate, replaced by discussions about his future. He’s off contract with Red Bull at the end of the year and is yet to decide what his next move will be.
Recent reports have suggested he has entered into a period of exclusive negotiating with Ferrari, while it’s also been reported he has told the Scuderia and Mercedes of his pay demands should he sign with either of those two teams for 2019 and beyond.
However, speaking on Thursday night (AEST) at a press conference ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Ricciardo said rumours of any arrangement with Ferrari were “not true” and he has also negotiated with Red Bull so far.
Red Bull is desperate for Ricciardo to stay but won’t wait around for him forever. Team boss Christian Horner this week told German magazine Auto Motor Und Sport Ricciardo has until August to sign a new contract — or the team will begin looking for his replacement.
Ricciardo has given nothing away when it comes to his next contract, apart from saying he would like it to be a two-year deal. And he isn’t going to change his plan of attack when faced with questions about his future when he heads to Baku for the next grand prix of the season.
“Would you be shocked to know that winning a race meant I got asked about 1000 more times about my contract for next year, as if winning made it any more clear about who I’ll be driving for?” Ricciardo wrote.
“Nah, me neither. To be honest, since (teammate) Max (Verstappen) re-signed with the team last year, the same question has been coming non-stop. I’ll see if I can answer the same questions another way this weekend too. Wish me luck.”
NICK Percat will remain with Brad Jones Racing until the end of the 2020 Supercars season.
The Bathurst 1000 and Adelaide 500 winner has put pen to paper on a two-year extension of a deal that began at the start of 2017.
“I am really excited to have extended my contract with Brad Jones Racing,” Percat said.
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“The goal with Brad, Kim and the whole team was to fight for race wins and eventually a championship.”
Although his Phillip Island weekend was blighted by front bumper failures, Percat’s second season with BJR is already a clear step ahead of his first in terms of success.
The 29-year-old converted a front row start to a podium finish in tricky conditions in Race 5 at Albert Park, before going one better the following day with a second-place finish that represents his best result with the Albury team.
“When Brad and Kim told me they wanted to extend my contract I couldn’t have been happier,” he said.
“BJR is where I want to be and where I think I’ll get my best result. I know the results we have had so far this year are just the beginning, the whole team is working extremely hard to give me a winning package.”
“My first year with BJR was character building for the whole team and I, and the way BJR continued to push and get on with the job was seriously impressive. This team is a big family, everyone has each other’s back and we all have the same goal.
“I can’t wait to score my first race win with BJR and continue to improve the car, this will be the longest period of continuity I’ve had in my Supercar career. I believe that continuity is what wins races and lets you fight for championships.”
DRIVER CONTINUITY UNTIL THE END OF 2019
Percat’s signing gives BJR continuity on the driver front until the end of the 2019 season.
Although it was not publicised at the time, Tim Slade signed a two-year extension to his contract with the squad in the middle of last year, guaranteeing the team will sport an all-South Australian driver line-up next year.
“Nick’s commitment and pace for us is unquestionable, so we’re really happy to have that stability and consistency going forward with both Nick in Car 8 and Tim Slade in the Freightliner/Alliance Truck Parts Commodore,” team boss Brad Jones said.
“I feel like Nick has grown with us in his time here already and he fits into the team really well; I can’t wait to see what we can achieve as a group over the next three years.”
Percat’s car will retain its Coregas livery when the championship resumes at Barbagallo Raceway for the Perth SuperSprint on May 4-6.