Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2016

On and off track, Ricciardo bares teeth

Above: Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo preparing to test the Ricciardo N35-RS kart at the KF1 Karting Circuit, where his own kart brand was launched. Ricciardo and singer-songwriter G.E.M. at a TAG Heuer event yesterday, playing drums together follo
Ricciardo and singer-songwriter G.E.M. at a TAG Heuer event yesterday, playing drums together followed by launching a special edition F1 watch.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Above: Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo preparing to test the Ricciardo N35-RS kart at the KF1 Karting Circuit, where his own kart brand was launched. Ricciardo and singer-songwriter G.E.M. at a TAG Heuer event yesterday, playing drums together follo
Above: Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo preparing to test the Ricciardo N35-RS kart at the KF1 Karting Circuit, where his own kart brand was launched.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Daniel Ricciardo is the walking contradiction to the oft-quoted saying "nice guys finish last".

Though the Formula One season has been dominated by the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Ricciardo leads the pack behind the Silver Arrows, and currently stands third on 161 points in the drivers' championship.

His easy-going demeanour has charmed many followers of the sport - his social media platforms showcase his big-toothed smile and casual banter with fellow F1 drivers.

But what most do not realise is that while Ricciardo has endeared himself as the off-track sweetheart, on track he takes on the persona of a raging bull, as evidenced when he lost his cool with his Red Bull pit crew after the Monaco race in May.

"I think I'm a nice guy off the track, but on the track I think it changes," the 27-year-old Australian, who finished second at last year's Singapore race, told The Straits Times last night.

"When I entered the sport, some people thought it would be because they didn't think I could change on track.

"It's probably an advantage being a nice guy."

Ricciardo's charm extends beyond on-track rivalry and into friendship with his fellow drivers. While several in the glitzy F1 world fly solo in private jets, the Red Bull driver has flown to various race venues with the likes of Williams' Felipe Massa, McLaren's Jenson Button and Rosberg.

He even generously accepted, and graciously lost, Massa's six- year-old son's challenge to a mini go-kart race in their family home.

One would think that fraternising with his rivals would make for fragile relationships. But Ricciardo, who won three races and finished third overall in 2014, is excellent at balancing the on-track competition with the off-track friendship.

"We know when we put the helmet on, it's business," he said. "And just because I might catch up with Massa in Monaco for dinner doesn't mean we don't race hard. If anything, we still want to race hard against each other."

Ricciardo is so likeable that fans have travelled across continents to root for him. He has earned the loyalty of Australian couple Michael and Margaret Mulrennan, who flew down from Perth - Ricciardo's home town - to catch him race in their first live grand prix.

"We used to watch Daniel race when he was young, in Wanneroo," said the couple, who met Ricciardo at TAG Heuer's promotional event at ION Atrium yesterday evening.

"He's got a big smile, he's a warm person - he's everything that Australians are."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'On and off track, Ricciardo bares teeth'. Print Edition | Subscribe