Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo predicts that after such a long lay off from competition, all that pent-up ambition could result in some drivers trying too hard to prove themselves when the season does finally get underway.
“For sure we’re all going to be showing everyone, ‘I trained harder in my quarantine,’ or ‘I’m less rusty than you are’,” he told the F1 Nation podcast this week. “I’m sure some driver egos will get in the way!
“I think it’s going to be pretty exciting. We don’t really know how many races we’re going to get this year, so you’re probably going to get the mentality of ‘Let’s make this one count.'”
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However Ricciardo also acknowledged that it might go toward the other extreme: “Everyone [could] be really cautious: ‘This feels foreign!'”
All the teams are doing their best to shake off the cobwebs of such a prolonged shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Mercedes running over two days at Silverstone and Ferrari in action last week at Maranello.
Renault similarly took a two-year-old R.S.18 for a test day at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, which will host next month’s season opener.
“It was good to get back to it,” he commented. “It was good to get back into work mode. As much as quarantine was nice on the farm, I did miss serious competition and serious work.
“The first few laps felt a little foreign [but] it’s like all things: when you’ve been doing something pretty much your whole life, it doesn’t take long until you remember the feeling. It all feels normal very quickly.
“Certainly the first time – getting in and leaving the pits, the first few laps – it felt a little strange,” he admitted.
“But I’m really glad we got to do it. Just shaking off the cobwebs, even like you’re general kind of body soreness that you get after the first day, I feel like I’ve gone through that now.”
The test day did give Renault the chance to put into action some of the new mandatory precautions that all teams will be required to use at events in 2020 to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the paddock.
“It was certainly different,” he said. “All our debriefs, all our meetings, were happening over video calls.
“Most of us were sitting kind of in the same area, but at distance, so we were all basically doing our debrief through video meetings. Everyone’s got the mask on in the garage.
“The mechanic who straps you in, I told him not to get too close to me! It’s pretty intimate when they start strapping you in, your crotch straps and all that.
“Everyone’s getting on with it,” he said. “I think there’s just a little bit more awareness of personal space. Like all things, whenever there’s a change you take a little bit of time to adapt. But in due time we do adapt.”
Ricciardo didn’t think that getting to test on the track that will hold the first round of the season would give him any advantage over the rest of the field when it came to the race weekend.
“We’re going to get plenty of practice, so the race weekend will go as normal,” he said. “We’re going to get plenty of seat time before race day.”
He said that driving the two-year-old car had allowed him to appreciate all the hard work and improvement over the intervening seasons which had resulted in this year’s R.S.20.
“It’s actually quite nice driving a two-year-old car, because it shows you the progress the sport makes,” he said. “Obviously we did get to drive the RS20 in testing before this pandemic started: it’s come a long way in two years, I’ll say that.”
But Ricciardo said it was still hard to know how the new car would measure up with the rest of the field once F1 finally gets back to racing.
“All we’ve got now is testing back in February,” he pointed out. “It was really hard to figure out if [the lead midfield car] was us or not. It looked like at least three of the midfield teams were within a tenth.
“Austria last year for us was maybe our worst weekend of the year. If we can come out there and be at the front of the midfield, I think it looks good for us for the rest of the season.”
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