Daniel Ricciardo opens up on criticism in fickle world of F1

F1's Netflix superstar Daniel Ricciardo is used to being in the spotlight -- even when it means going from flavor of the month to being a driver who, by his own admission, might have people swearing in frustration at their TV screens. Ricciardo's slow start to the season has been a major talking point across the first five races.

The popular Australian has been comfortably out-performed by RB teammate Yuki Tsunoda so far and has seen the narrative around his F1 comeback shift from whether he will finally rejoin Red Bull in 2025 to whether he will even keep a seat with the company's second team beyond this year.

Speaking to ESPN, Ricciardo was candid about how things have been so far this year.

"I'm sure a lot of people, my fans, F1 fans, whoever, have been saying 'f---ing hell Daniel, pull your finger out, what the f--- are you doing?' That's just part of this whole thing," he said. "I'm sure for a lot of them it comes out of a place of them caring and wanting me to do good. And then for some they just have a negative opinion they won't change.

"I tend not to read stuff about me. I'm generally not a big reader, but inevitably you come across stuff. But it's one of those things. I perform at a few races and all of a sudden it's 'Daniel's back' or 'Daniel's in contention for this, or that.'"

Seats on F1's grid of 20 drivers can be hard to come by -- this year's line-up remained unchanged from last year -- and Ricciardo's situation has been magnified with Red Bull junior driver Liam Lawson waiting in the wings. Another driver unsure of his next step is Carlos Sainz, who claimed an impressive win at last month's Australian Grand Prix two weeks after appendicitis surgery.

- F1 boss: Calendar to stay at 24 races despite huge interest

Ricciardo used that example -- and Sainz's performances relative to out-of-form Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc -- to highlight how fickle opinions can be in and around the world of F1.

"[Carlos] did great in Melbourne, coming back after the surgery, winning the race -- amazing win, he did frickin' awesome. But it's one win and suddenly people can be like 'oh he's the highest rated driver on the grid' or whatever.... then if Charles wipes the floor with him for a few races those same people would be 'oh, it was just a one-off, Carlos isn't all that,' you know what I mean? It's like that.

"I know if I was going to have an awesome weekend or two, the narrative would suddenly be that Daniel's back. It can change so quickly.

"But that's also an example where you can't get caught out on it. If you read everything it's like, 'oh I'm the man', 'oh no I'm not the man', 'oh I'm the man', 'oh no I'm not the man,' just over and over. Then you start, if you're not strong minded enough, you start doubting yourself... [thinking] am I past it, am I a bit washed? Whatever.

"I know if I was to read something at the moment it's not going to say 'Daniel's on fire this year.' Clearly on paper I'm not. But do I feel like I have the ability to be on fire and go on a run? Absolutely I do," Ricciardo says.

He will hope that his optimism about a turnaround is well-founded. Red Bull appears set to give Sergio Perez another year as Max Verstappen's teammate in 2025, which would leave Ricciardo at the mercy of whether the company wanted him to continue in his current position.

After a disappointing home race in Australia last month, a New Zealand Herald article suggested Ricciardo had been given an ultimatum to improve by this week's Miami race or risk losing his seat to Lawson -- multiple ESPN sources with knowledge of the situation have said that report was wide of the mark.

Regardless of the legitimacy of that one story, Red Bull is renowned for having limited tolerance for drivers out of form, although team boss Christian Horner has always been a fan of Ricciardo's talent and has repeatedly backed him to bounce back this season. Whether that patience will last is another story.

Ricciardo is all too aware of that, adding: "I don't wanna still be at Monaco [at the end of May] like 'yeah it will happen this weekend.'"

There are reasons to think a quick turnaround is possible. While Tsunoda has been one of the star performers of the year so far, scoring points on three occasions, his run of out-qualifying Ricciardo at every race ended at the Chinese Grand Prix two weeks ago.

In Shanghai, with Ricciardo finally in possession of a new chassis he had been asking RB for since the start of the season, he qualified ahead of his teammate for the sprint and the race itself -- he only failed to finish the grand prix due to Lance Stroll's moment of madness behind the safety car.

So while his points tally still reads zero next to the seven of Tsunoda, Ricciardo said the people who have all the information are the only ones he is worried about.

"I only care about what Christian, Helmut [Marko, Red Bull racing advisor], Laurent [Mekies, RB team boss] and a couple of others think in the paddock," Ricciardo said. "Their opinions are the ones which matter. They're the only people that have all the data, all the info of if I'm pulling my weight or am I not. They're the only people that know the black and white answer.

"Like I know if I speak to Helmut after a bad race, he'll say 'pull your finger out,' so I know what's expected of me."

Ricciardo, the driver who's fame arguably rose more than any other's thanks to the docuseries "Drive to Survive," thinks a lot of the chatter around him shows one drawback of F1's current global boom.

"Probably since the Netflix series and the popularity of the sport it feels a lot more mainstream, it feels a lot more open to more opinions, and probably just a bit of bulls--- that comes with the territory. I think that's why I've made a point to really focus on myself and the team around me. You're not going to be able to please everyone. Even if I was doing good, you'd still have someone saying I'm done, or I'm only good because Yuki's not good, whatever it might be."

That surge of popularity has been otherwise largely positive for Ricciardo, especially in America. The Buffalo Bills fan, who counts quarterback Josh Allen as a friend, has become a bonafide star in the U.S., which now hosts three races, this weekend's Miami race shares a spot on the calendar with Austin's U.S. Grand Prix and the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Speaking about what it's like being recognized in America now, he said: "It can still be a little nuts!

"I think at first it was 'oh my god, an F1 driver!' Now it's 'oh an F1 driver, he did this, he did that,' there's less shock factor. It's more 'hey, I know you' and 'great race last week' and 'we've been following you since the first series.' There's probably a bit more depth to the fandom as opposed to a few years when it was just people seeing you on TV.

"I do love the way the sport's grown in the States. I just love how America does sport. If I had a second life I'd love to go to college and play football and do the American thing. So us kind of touching a little bit of the states now gives me a little bit of that, something I would have liked to have felt in another life!

"I still get it quite a bit like -- you were great on that show! I feel like, 'you know I'm not an actor right?' But it's still great. It's hard not to love it."