Ahead of his home grand prix and first race for Red Bull this weekend, Daniel Ricciardo sat down with media on the 29th floor of a Melbourne tower block to talk about his team's testing troubles, going up against a four-time champion and hooking up his single friends with grid girls...
You're in a strange place at the moment because a lot of people are talking about Red Bull and you're now in the upper stratosphere of F1 drivers, but you haven't actually done a race yet. Is that a bit strange?
There's a lot of talking that's taken place and people are even asking how it's going to go this weekend, but I don't really know. They ask me how I'm going to go against Seb [Vettel], and obviously I have faith and confidence I'll go well against him, but until I do it on an even playing field I don't really know. Not much can be answered yet, but I'm sure after a few races it will be a bit clearer for everyone.
Now that you're in one of the biggest teams, what's the biggest change in terms of how you feel about yourself and how you feel about things?
It's nice. It's a step closer to what I want to achieve in the sport and it makes me feel good and more motivated than I've ever been to really do well. Other than that, not much changes.
Do you ever catch yourself with a bit of swagger on?
No, not really! I've earned the seat and that's one step, but I haven't had a chance to do anything with it yet. Up until now I haven't been with a top team, but my best result is just a seventh so there is plenty of room for me to move forward and no point in me getting too excited until I do that.
When you're with your mates, what's the question they always ask about your career as a Formula One driver? What do they really want to know?
All my single mates obviously want to know what the girls are like! They want to know whether it's worth them flying halfway round the world to pick up a few grid girls. That's what most of those guys are asking!
Does knowing you open any doors for them?
I haven't had any personal experience, but I say to the boys that if they want to come along they are more than welcome to come and watch me race, and if there's a good afterparty I'll get them in!
What's the mindset this weekend at Red Bull? After the difficulties you had in testing, is it a mindset of damage limitation and trying to get through it or do you think the team's made good progress and you're going to surprise people with what you can do on track?
I definitely hope we can surprise some people. I know for a fact the team has been working ridiculously hard all through the off-season and even more during testing after we realised where we stood. Since Bahrain they have done a lot back at the factory, but I think it's one of those things where I'm sure we've made progress but until we get on track we are not going to know how much ground we have made up on the other competitors. We've still got a bit to discover, I'm sure, but we are still going to get stronger and stronger. Each lap we do we will learn more and more and hopefully sooner rather than later we will close the gap.
Not many people are talking about Red Bull as a favourite for victory this weekend and there's not much expectation. Is it a help to you that you're not heading for this weekend with everyone expecting you to be right up there in the race?
In a way I guess it lowers a little bit of tension and expectation, but at the same time it doesn't really change my approach. I'm not going to be going on the grid on Sunday thinking 'yeah, whatever', I'll still maintain that intensity that I would have had. I've still got a job to do and I've still got Seb alongside me, which is going to be a challenge no matter what position we are fighting for. I've still got a bit on my plate and hopefully that'll keep me on top of my game.
How is Seb to deal with? How much interaction have you had so far through testing?
We've had a bit to do in terms of media stuff away from the track, and then obviously at the track testing. It's been more on the business side; we've spoken quite a bit out the car together - just one-on-one. We've had a pretty difficult testing so we've been trying to pinpoint what we've needed to do and what we need to address the team with to really focus on. There was more than one issue at times and we really had to talk and get across the right thing so that the team could go forward without us confusing them too much. On a professional side and working with the team it's been really good, and then the media stuff has been really fun as well.
Is he an easy and open person to deal with?
Yeah, he's been open. Obviously he's not telling me how to drive around a corner, no driver is doing that. But with people around the team and the way we are discussing things with the car, I think he's been open with me and I've been open with him. We're not really at a point where we're really trying to out-do each other. At the moment we are still trying to bring the team around us and get the team to a better level first.
For every person who says you are going to win there are going to be people who say you are not going to win a race all season. Does that surprise you?
No, not at all. I follow athletes in all different sorts of disciplines, and even if someone's won a world title of some sort there are always people who say you should have won this and that. That's natural and it's people's opinions. Obviously they are entitled to what they think and I don't expect everyone to love me and I don't smile to try to win everyone over - that's just me. It doesn't really bother me if someone says I will win or I won't. It's nicer to hear positive things, but at the end of the day it's me more than anyone else who wants to win for me.
Do you accept that with no-one sure where Red Bull is in terms of competitiveness, you might not win a race the entire season?
Of course it's possible. I don't expect winning to come easy if it does come, but it's still our target and our goal to work towards that and that's the challenge we have in front of us. If it was easy we'd all be doing it, but, honestly, I haven't got close to a win yet. Seventh is the best I've managed so far, so I've got a bit of learning to do.
You're a Red Bull driver this year and the only Aussie on the grid. Can you tell us how much more pressure is on you now compared to a year ago?
There's a bit more, for sure, since Mark [Webber] stepped aside and I've moved up. I think everyone's curious, along with me, to see how I go. A lot of people don't really know what I'm capable of so it's curiosity for now. Seb's been so dominant so people are asking 'can this kid really take it to him?'. I guess we'll find out, but I'm still trying to stay pretty humble about it all and keep doing it as I've done the last few years and try to keep improving. I don't feel like I've peaked yet and I still feel like I'm learning a lot. Hopefully there is still a bit of speed to come out of me.
After the winter you've had, will finishing in the points this weekend be enough to keep you happy going forwards or are you expecting more?
Not to play it down, but if we could finish [the race] and start the season with some points then, considering the winter we've had, I don't think we'd be crying - I think we'd probably take that. Then again, if we come out on Friday and we're in the top five in practice and then in qualifying too, then if we finish tenth we'll probably be a bit disappointed. But [talking] here today, if we can finish with both cars in the points it would be a pretty solid result.