Daniel Ricciardo’s future in Formula 1 seems uncertain. The 8-time race winner’s recent run of lackluster performance has led many to speculate that the Australian might be facing an early retirement from the sport unless his form turns around. One commentator, however, has offered a rather unique piece of advice to ‘The Honey Badger’: play more computer games.
1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill, during his appearance on a recent F1 Nation podcast, has suggested that Ricciardo’s lack of sim racing experience and hours might be why his teammate Lando Norris is showing him up.
“I wonder whether there’s something about the nature of Formula 1 these days which is helping a younger generation of drivers because I think they’ve been used to playing computer games. Look at Max [Verstappen]he’s on a computer game the whole time,” Hill mused.
“It used to be that they’re all going karting, Michael Schumacher, he went and did karting when he had a chance, the exception to that is Fernando Alonso, who also goes in karts all the time to keep his edge. But there’s a younger generation who have used computers a lot more, and I don’t think Daniel was one of those, that generation.”
“I think there’s something about the way the cars can be driven. Using different parts of the brain… it’s more to do with the signals they’re getting more eye to hand, rather than through the seat of their pants, they’re able to respond to what they’re seeing,” Hill continues.
“That potentially opens up a different setup possibility for engineers, so they can go from optimum setup, which perhaps doesn’t give the feel to the old school drivers as much.”
There’s perhaps some merit to Hill’s theory. Many of the younger drivers on the grid – such as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Mercedes’ George Russell, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and indeed, McLaren’s Lando Norris – all spend a lot of their spare time on racing simulators and regularly stream their virtual racing exploits on platforms like Twitch. They often race each other, too.
With how advanced and realistic modern driving simulators are – even pretty mainstream ones like the official F1 video game – it could be that all this screen time is what’s giving these young guns an edge. They’re literally getting more laps in.
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Moreover, many commentators have suggested that ‘older’ drivers (who are facing pressure from their younger, talented teammates) like Ricciardo or Lewis Hamilton, have a mindset where they need the car to suit their needs, rather than adjust their driving style to their car.
Perhaps all that experience sim racing – where you don’t have as close of a connection with the car and therefore you’re forced to work around your vehicle, in a sense – means that younger drivers like Leclerc, Norris and Russell are better at getting used to new machinery, such as the radically different cars F1 has introduced in 2022.
Indeed, Ricciardo himself has talked a little bit about the mental block he’s had to overcome when it comes to virtual racing.
“At first I thought it was just something fun to pass the time, but I definitely see that there’s a bit more to it now,” he told Motorsport.com in an interview last year.
“Some of the sim racers, they’ve been able to transfer their skills into a real car and that’s been a bit of an eye-opener. We talked about F1 1995, and that was very different to what we have now. So probably for a while, my head was in the place of ‘ah, it’s just a game’. Now it’s like, what can I really learn from it?”
“The biggest challenge that I’ll say all of us F1 drivers have is that we only get a few chances each weekend to put a new set of tires on and do the perfect lap,” Ricciardo explains.
“There’s sometimes three weeks in between races, and then at the end of the season, there’s two or three months. It is crazy, for a sport that’s so precise, and there’s so much technology involved, and with such precision, that it’s hard for any of us to ever really be perfect because we just don’t get the mileage. That’s where I’ve definitely been more open-minded.”
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Ricciardo’s form shows some early signs of recovering. During last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Ricciardo finished 8th: his first points finish since his home race at the Australian Grand Prix and his second points finish this year overall. Crucially, he finished ahead of Norris, who finished 9th.
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The 2022 Formula 1 World Championship continues with the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend. Montréal has traditionally been a pretty strong track for Ricciardo – indeed, it’s where he recorded his maiden F1 win back in 2014. Fingers crossed he can make some magic happen again.