Dubai: Renault Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo has said he is overwhelmed at the stringent measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the UAE having witnessed them first hand as he touched down for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
With authorities in the UAE capital preparing for Sunday’s F1 coronavirus-disrupted season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit, Australian Ricciardo said was delighted to be back in one of his favourite destinations, as Renault DP World F1 Team make a final push for third spot in the Constructors’ Championship.
“it’s a shame we won’t have packed yachts in the Marina or fans in the stands but it is awesome to be back in Abu Dhabi for the season-ender,” said the effusive 31-year-old in a chat with Gulf News courtesy of DP World.
“I love the weather over here as I am a warm-weather guy. The facilities are amazing both on the track and across the city. What amazed me during a season where not many of the drivers thought we would even get to this point, is the safety protocols in place here.
“It is a step above anywhere I have been, and the protocols across the season have been excellent. What they do here is a step above. When I saw them spraying our suitcases and everything ... It makes you feel safer and happier to be here.”
Ricciardo’s teammate this weekend will be Esteban Ocon for the last time as the former is heading over to McLaren for the 2021 season. The 24-year-old Ocon is equally delighted to be in Abu Dhabi as the curtain falls on the campaign.
“It’s so nice and warm here as Europe freezes. I vacation here often and each time I love coming back. Also it is a great track to race on so we can have the best of both worlds on and off the track.”
While Ricciardo is departing to new pastures after Abu Dhabi, he insisted his mind will only be on one thing on Sunday, and during the practice and qualifying, which begins on Friday.
“There is no focus on next season at all,” he insisted. “I am only focused on Abu Dhabi. I’m still pushing for fourth in the Drivers’ Championship and we are pushing for fourth and third in the Constructors’, so there is everything to play for. Once you pull that helmet on and the lights go out, we all only know one speed.
“If we can get in right places and qualify in the top five, then we will be right in the mix. You saw last week in Bahrain (where Racing Point’s Sergio Perez won a thrilling race missing world champion Lewis Hamilton) that anything can happen, so you never know.”
Ricciardo took time to reflect on a tumultuous season, with a sense of relief at finally getting to Abu Dhabi.
“We have managed 17 races in six months, which is an amazing achievement,” he said. “It has been tiring but we all said: ‘Let’s go racing.’ As I said it is amazing we actually got here.”
Ocon concurred, saying: “It has been a special season. Seeing Australia (the season-opener in March) cancelled was a shock for everyone. Well done to the FIA and everyone involved to get a season done.”
Looking ahead to next season, where Ocon’s new teammate with be two time world champion Fernando Alonso, the Frenchman added: “I really hope we can get back to normal. We don’t want another year like this on track. There have been some great races, but life in the bubble has been so stressful. We do not see family or friends. It’s been a fun year on track, but outside of the racing, we need to get back to normal.
“Fernando’s experience will be great for me. He is already getting race ready and next year will be brilliant.”
2020 Drivers’ Championship standings
1. L. Hamilton Mercedes 332
2. V. Bottas Mercedes 205
3. M. Verstappen Red Bull 189
4. S. Perez Racing Point 125
5. D. Ricciardo Renault 112
6. C. Leclerc Ferrari 98
7. C. Sainz McLaren 97
8. A. Albon Red Bull 93
9. L. Norris McLaren 87
10. L. Stroll Racing Point 74 0 2
2020 Constructors’ Championship standings
1. Mercedes 540
2. Red Bull 282
3. Racing Point 194
4. McLaren 184
5. Renault 172
6. Ferrari 131
7. Alphatauri 103
8. Alfa Romeo 8
9. Haas 3
10. Williams 0