The Aussie F1 star finished 14th three times in his debut campaign with Renault — his poorest results aside from five retirements — and while he’d normally be despondent after falling so far behind, his effort at the Belgian GP provided him with plenty of perspective.
That Sunday in September was an emotional one for everyone on the grid as the grand prix took place in the wake of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert’s tragic death.
The 22-year-old died after a horrifying 240km/h collision at the famous Eau Rogue turn at the Spa circuit that weekend as drivers were given a sobering reminder of their own mortality and the risks involved with racing at such high speeds.
Ricciardo said the weight of that knowledge — then suffering a bump himself and carrying car damage throughout the race — meant he was incredibly proud just to see the chequered flag, even if he was the 14th driver to finish.
“It was a race where, probably the circumstances of that day as well (after Hubert’s death) and I got hit in Turn 1 and we had a lot of floor damage,” Ricciardo said when asked for his season highlight, as reported by Motorsport.com.
“To be honest, the car was quite scary to drive after that. We had a lot less downforce. I was probably flat through Eau Rouge less than half a dozen times the whole race.
“So that gives you probably an idea of how scary it was through there.
“I felt like, I don’t know, I just I drove with some level of attention and some form of inspiration that day.
“I was very happy with how I drove and I ended up being whatever, 14th, but on a personal level, that was one of my best drives I felt ever.”
Ricciardo put up an admirable fight at Spa and his drop from seventh to 14th late in the race was mainly the result of tyre degradation rather than any fault of his own.
Unfortunately for Ricciardo there weren’t many results to cheer as he finished ninth in the drivers’ standings on 54 points — a sizeable 38 points behind eighth-placed Alexander Albon.
Renault also landed fifth in the constructors’ championship, unable to make good on a pre-season goal to lead the midfield pack.
But even though Ricciardo finished sixth in his final year with Red Bull (2018) and scored more than three times as many points as he did with Renault this season, the Honey Badger is adamant 2019 wasn’t nearly as frustrating as last season.
“Definitely no more frustrating than last year,” Ricciardo said on the latest episode of the Beyond the Grid podcast when asked how tough it was enduring a run of poor results in the yellow and black.
“You know, 2018 was frustrating — that was my most frustrating year I would say because it started so promising and then just never really got going for the most part after that.
“You know, if it was me making 90 per cent of the mistakes then I could address that and look in the mirror and find out what to do better but — I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I felt more times than not it was out of my control and that was the frustration (last year).
“This year, yeah we haven’t had great results all the time and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs again but I think it was just my expectation of this year was not as high as what it would have been last year with Red Bull so I didn’t really set any, ‘OK, if we’re not fifth by X race then I’m going to be feeling like this’. I jut rolled with it.
“I knew there was always going to be work to do so I didn’t let the result get the better of me.”