Chatting with Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo about mental health
Chatting with a champion: mental health with Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo
Awareness of mental health is a topic coming more and more to the forefront of conversation – even from people who you might not expect to discuss it much. One of them is Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo, currently driving for the Renault team but due to move to McLaren next year.
Everyone has their own mental image of a Formula 1 driver: someone who is almost unimaginably glamorous and self-confident, with no real worries beyond performing at their best and crossing the finish line first, motivated by millions of pounds to do so as well as their own insatiably competitive urges.
Some bits of that reputation are true: Formula 1 is unquestionably glamorous and the drivers are paid well to be international gladiators. But behind the helmets are a number of minds who are only too aware of the mental struggles that many of us face. Formula 1 drivers are just normal people like you or I in the end – and few are as normal as Daniel Ricciardo from Perth (Australia, not Scotland…) who is one of the most genuine and likeable people in the F1 paddock. He was recently talking about mental health as part of a campaign put in place by his Renault team and how this subject should never be pushed under the carpet.
Daniel opens up about mental health
“I feel it’s an important subject: everyone needs to speak up about mental health and feel happy to do so,” he says. “It’s prevalent in all walks of life and it’s all about sharing experiences and knowledge.”
The mistake that most people make is keeping their stresses bottled up, to the point where they can sometimes spill over into wider mental health problems. And of course, everyone has their own ways of coping with stress and trying to let it out.
“I like to listen to music to help alleviate stress both at and away from the track,” adds Ricciardo. “I find I can relate to the lyrics of certain songs and they sort of speak to you, which I enjoy. I also think it’s very important to be able to switch off and things like music help me to do that. In my job as a racing driver it can be easy to not switch off. The night before a race can be tricky for this, as you’ve had all that adrenaline going around for qualifying. To combat this, what I find helps is knowing within myself that if I’ve prepared the best I can, then it shouldn’t be occupying my mind during my rest time. Something else I find very useful at the track is getting away from your work and taking a break, whether it’s something simple like a five-minute time-out or spending some time in your own head space listening to music. For me this helps reset the mind and means I can have a clearer thought process.”
The importance of taking your own time and space
That’s something we can all learn from: you don’t have to be a grand prix driver to recognise the importance of taking your own time and space to just walk away if it’s all getting too much. Formula 1 is an elite sport, but sometimes practising sport at a more amateur level is enough to help keep a balanced mind in the face of everyday frustrations.
“In my job there are so many variables and that alone will create stress,” points out Ricciardo: a situation that will probably feel quite familiar to most of us. “For example, even after a good qualifying session it quickly shifts, and you can easily start experiencing doubts about how the race will go. In order to remove these doubts and added stress factors, you have to acknowledge these thoughts and then take action, which for me might be sharing those thoughts or having a conversation with the team or engineers. Maintaining good levels of fitness is also important for me and helps me deal with stress. I think lockdown could have so easily gone the other way with me stopping exercise and training, but I didn’t and by maintaining a good fitness programme I felt mentally good during the break and I still do now. It’s at a point now that I think even when I finish racing, I’ll still keep this level of fitness up as it really helps me.”
How Daniel spent the lockdown
Ricciardo spent the lockdown period at his family farm in Western Australia: a vast and mostly empty landscape where he was surrounded by acres of nothing. It helped to clear his head and stick to his exercise regime, but despite the high-profile nature of what he does, the Australian doesn’t think that his own situation – and how he handles pressure – is much different to that of anyone else. “I work in a fast paced, high pressured environment but so do many others,” he explains. “I think no matter the job, the industry or your experience level, managing stress and mental health is important across the board. I hope by us talking about this it can lead to others doing the same and not feeling any guilt or shame about talking it out.”
Whether you are a Formula 1 driver or office worker, it’s easy to jump to assumptions about how someone else thinks or feels. And that’s something Ricciardo is keen to warn against.
“Nobody really knows what the other person is going through and it’s important to not judge a book by its cover,” he concludes. “What you can do is make sure that you are always there for someone and most importantly listen. Being a good listener is key. And, being patient, as you might have the answers that they might not have found yet. Another important thing is to have perspective too. I make sure to bring perspective into my thought process regularly and can do this by remembering all the positives. For example, focusing on the positives of why I love my job: it’s my dream job after all. It’s important to be able to remind yourself of things like this and not lose sight of why you are doing it just because something stressful has happened.”
Ricciardo isn’t quite a world champion yet, although with his new team moving steadily up the order, he’s got a bigger chance to do it next year. But he’s still far from the stereotype of a Formula 1 driver. As Dan says himself, never judge a book by its cover. And don’t forget that however confident anybody might seem from the outside, nobody is ever immune to mental pressure. Even a world champion.