MIAMI — Daniel Ricciardo‘s smile has never looked wider. With country music blaring from the onboard speakers of his personal watercraft, the eight-time grand prix winner joins ESPN out on the open water with sun on his skin and sea water in his hair.
Over 300 metres from the shoreline, it’s one of the more unusual interview locations for both driver and reporter, but there couldn’t be a more fitting backdrop ahead of Formula One’s inaugural race in Miami.
“Pretty cool, huh?” he tells ESPN as he shuts off the engine and we bob up and down in the turquoise waters. “This is a first for me as well.”
When we talk, there’s five days to go until race day and Ricciardo has spent the morning ripping his new ride around a small island in Miami’s Biscayne Bay.
It’s a mix of work and play as he takes direction from a film crew on a boat, who are capturing footage for an upcoming product launch for Sea-Doo — a manufacturer of 300-brake-horsepower playthings for the water. Ricciardo is the new face of the brand, and today is all about securing imagery of sun, sea and smiles in a postcard-perfect setting.
Ricciardo’s aquatic playground is a lagoon located between Miami Beach and the downtown area. The calm and clear waters have been closed off to the public by the local sheriff so the McLaren driver can let loose, and so far he’s not been holding back.
After over a decade in Formula One, Ricciardo is no stranger to adrenaline, but he’s clearly still buzzing when it comes to interview time midway through the morning. His usual ride — a 1000-brake-horsepower F1 car — subjects his body to five times the force of gravity through high-speed corners, but after driving it for 11 years, he’s somewhat used to that.
Being on the water, however, is a new kind of thrill.
“I was building my confidence out there, but I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t get too confident’ because I still don’t really know what I’m doing!
“It definitely scared me a bit. I think it’s because being on the water is a little bit out of my comfort zone, but in general it’s just because it’s really fast.
“They say you can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds on this thing. I’m glad I’m wearing gloves because you need every bit of grip to hold on to it.
“I mean, it feels really quick. I’m assuming it looks really quick as well?”
It does. Even though he’s still getting used to the machine, Ricciardo immediately impressed the employees from Sea-Doo.
“I wasn’t expecting him to corner that hard,” said one as we watched Ricciardo from an island in the lagoon. The 32-year-old had the watercraft banked over and on the throttle as he came within inches of a buoy marking out a race “track” on the water.
Even so, Ricciardo insists he was holding back a bit — wary of hurting himself ahead of Sunday’s big event.
“I have to remind myself that I’ve got to race this weekend! I nearly forgot about that out there.”
That’s where the country music comes in — it helps to mellow the mood.
“I feel like it’s a country music vibe out here today,” he says. “Music and a machine — it’s all I want in life!
“If I could listen to music when I raced in F1, I think I would be faster. I’d be the world champion that could have been with music!”
It begs the question, what would be the best music for an F1 race?
“I would start with something heavier, whether it’s punk rock or some hip-hop, and then as the race went on I would mellow it out to try and get myself in the zone.
“Maybe some silky electronic music to keep you in a bit of rhythm.”
Away from F1, Ricciardo says he often uses different forms of motorised transport to let off steam. His ultimate three-machine garage doesn’t include an F1 car, but instead a 110 cc motocross bike, an off-road two-seater buggy and his new Sea-Doo, which he describes as a motorbike for the water.
He has raced cars his whole career, but the two-wheeled world is increasingly what interests him and will likely provide his kicks when he finally gives up racing.
“I was always fascinated by two wheels,” he says. “When I was growing up, I was watching as much two-wheel racing as four-wheel, whether it was motorcycle racing or dirt bike racing or the freestyle motocross, I was so into it.
“Over the years, because I’ve spent so much time on four wheels, I’ve had more interest in two wheels because it’s still new and exciting for me.
“That’s something I want to do when I retire from F1 is to learn how to get better on these and on dirt bikes.”
So could he make a switch to racing something other than cars?
“No, not competitively. Just for fun.
“My competitive gene will be worn out after F1. I plan to burn all the wicks in F1, and it’ll just be for fun after that.
“I’ll still get adrenaline from it, like days like today, but I’ll look to get my kicks from the thrill of it rather than looking to be faster than the guy next to me.”
With the sun reappearing from behind a cloud, the conditions are right for more content capturing and it’s time for Ricciardo to get back to “work”. The film crew on the boat have more shots to secure and no desire to have a journalist in the frame with their superstar.
Ricciardo fires his Sea-Doo back up, the country music returns and he heads off for another lap of the island.