Daniel Ricciardo Is an F1 Superstar Off the Track. Can He Come Back On It?

Come fall, Ricciardo arrived at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the home race of McLaren arch-rival Ferrari. He wasn’t the same driver that had been getting beaten down all spring. “I got into the second part of the season,” Ricciardo recalls, “with a bit of a more carefree attitude.” His plan was simple, and fit for the Honey Badger: “Let’s just go and race, have fun. Go be a badass and don’t overthink shit,” he told himself.

So far that season, 11 of the previous 13 races had been won by either Hamilton or eventual champion Max Verstappen. Nobody thought Ricciardo would win a single race. Hell, he didn’t even think he had it in him.

And then he qualified for the grand prix in second. And then he passed the leader, Verstappen, going into the first turn of the race. Coming out of turn two, you couldn’t tell, but Ricciardo was grinning widely behind his helmet. Still, nobody expected Ricciardo to actually end up in first. He didn’t either—at least not yet. But after he held off Verstappen for the first stint of the race, Ricciardo began to believe in himself again. “I was like, ‘No one’s taking this race from me.’” After a clean pit stop, Ricciardo’s belief hardened into certainty. “You have these moments where you really feel undeniable. There’s this kind of conviction and fight,” he explains. “As soon as we did the pit stop, I was like, No chance someone’s beating me today. It’s just not going to happen.

What happened next, of course, was the endpoint of a redemption arc so perfect that Drive to Survive spent half a season winding it up: Ricciardo won, leading Norris in a one-two McLaren finish. On the podium, he did a fat shoey, his first in nearly a year. What the cameras didn’t get to see was what happened next: Daniel Ricciardo, too exhausted to hit the town in celebration, lying in the bed of his motorhome, staring at the ceiling and giggling like he was a kid who just won a karting trophy.

“The year was tough,” he says. “But the win confirmed a lot to myself. There were moments I wasn’t sure if I loved the sport anymore, that sort of stuff, and after the win I was like, No, this shit means way too much to me. I proved it today. I proved I can still do it.

In that rare and beautiful moment of privacy, Ricciardo started feeling something he hadn’t felt in a long time: “Good, positive, wavy emotions,” as he puts it. “I don’t want to say I was crying, but I nearly could’ve cried of happiness.”

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