Ricciardo has ‘fallen in love’ with F1 again

Ricciardo has 'fallen in love' with F1 again

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Alpha Tauri driver Daniel Ricciardo smiles as he rides a scooter through the paddock at the Hungarian Grand Prix
Daniel Ricciardo drove for Alpha Tauri in its previous guise as Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013

Daniel Ricciardo says he has “fallen in love” with Formula 1 again as he prepares to return to the grid at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo, dropped by McLaren last year, said he was refreshed after seven months out and is “hungry and ready to go – pretty pumped”.

He added: “I feel like I’ve been myself again.”

Ricciardo’s McLaren contract was severed a year early last season after two years of struggling to get on terms with team-mate Lando Norris.

He has been Red Bull’s reserve driver since the start of the year and earned his place back at the team where he drove his first full season in 2012 with a test at Silverstone last week in which he impressed.

“I just got in it and I drove,” Ricciardo said. “I didn’t really think about anything. I just drove and had fun. The times were good and I was competitive.

“There’s going to be a lot to learn but I’m not going to solve everything this weekend so it’s really just about focusing on using things I do well.

“Everything I felt driving the car last week is how I want to go racing again. I just want to be in the moment, enjoying it, not thinking too far ahead.”

Ricciardo confirmed team principal Christian Horner’s claim earlier this week that he was targeting a return to Red Bull in the future. He left the team at the end of 2018 feeling they had become too preoccupied with Max Verstappen and went first to Renault and then to McLaren.

Although Alpha Tauri are struggling towards the back of the grid this year, he sees a return as a springboard to greater things.

“I knew everything that happened the last few years, and taking some time off, it would be very hard to go back in at the top,” Ricciardo said.

“Of course that was my wish but I think also you need to be realistic at some point and say: ‘OK, if I want to get back to, say, a Red Bull seat, then it’s going to take a bit of a process and a path’. This for me is the best path at the moment.”

He said he had driven the Alpha Tauri car on the simulator last week and was looking forward to taking it out on track at the Hungaroring for the first time in practice on Friday.

“I know the car will have limitations and I’m sure it’s not going to feel as good as the car I drove a week ago. But I’ll just work with that.

“I drove it on the sim last week, and it seemed OK. I think it was a solid day on the sim.

“It will be a car I have to work at but I don’t see the pessimistic point of view, it’s just an opportunity for me.”

He said he believed his struggles at McLaren were centred on him “just lacking that confidence of just going out there and driving. Other thoughts creep into your mind.”

He said being back at Red Bull, for whom he won seven races from 2014-18, had allowed him to refresh his mind.

“I’ve enjoyed this year in general,” Ricciardo said. “It has been a lot of fun being back in the Red Bull family and it gave me some time away that was definitely needed.

“I expected the year off. I haven’t had the whole year but I had enough time that fuelled me and energised me.”

A record waiting to be broken and an anniversary

Fernando Alonso and the Renault team celebrate winning the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix
After winning his first Formula 1 race with Renault at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix, he went on to secure the drivers’ championship with the team in 2005 and 2006

This weekend’s race marks two important milestones in F1.

Red Bull have the chance to set a new record for consecutive wins, as a victory on Sunday would be their 12th in a row and take them past the mark set by McLaren in 1988.

Verstappen, who has won eight of the 10 races this year and is running away with the drivers’ championship, said: “I am not thinking about the record. If we win, it means we break the record, but it is more important we win.”

Red Bull have some upgrades on the car this weekend, including reshaped side pods with a narrower cooling opening.

Verstappen said: “Normally it makes the car a bit faster but it also looks nice. Everyone always tries to improve their car so that is what we are trying to do.”

The weekend also marks the 20th anniversary of Fernando Alonso’s first F1 victory.

The Spanish legend, who has gone on to win two world titles and has 32 victories, recalled his win in 2003 for Renault as “a magical moment of my life – it changed off track many things in my life. In Spain, no more privacy in my life since 20 years. The first win is a big thing.”

He said he “still has the same motivation and same joy of racing” as 20 years ago and that he “would not change anything [about my career] – I don’t regret anything”.

Alonso, who is third in the championship between Verstappen and the other Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, said he was expecting his Aston Martin to be more competitive again this weekend after difficult races in Austria and Britain.

“The layout of the track and the characteristics are a little more similar to the circuits we performed well,” the 41-year-old said. “High-speed corners and long straights are not maybe the strengths of our package.

“Hopefully here we can come back to a strong performance even though our main competitors have improved their package and will be very strong.”

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