Daniel Ricciardo, the smiling honey badger of Formula 1, has made a name from himself based on his consistency in a sport that strives for perfection. But what is the secret behind his outstanding performance? In an interesting conversation with his performance coach, Michael Italiano, we discuss Daniel’s preparation.
Michael and Daniel met when they were kids, and they kept in touch ever since. Two years ago, Michael started coaching Daniel. The trainer didn’t hesitate and moved to London to focus on one single client. Michael notes: “It’s weird to change from training 30-40 clients to use all of your energy on one person; it’s weird but also exciting. I followed Formula 1 because of Daniel, but being involved in the sport is intriguing and fun.”
Michael Italiano continues: “Fortunately, Daniel’s very professional, so he’s self-motivated, but keeping him motivated is part of my job too. It’s key to trust each other and understand how much work will we have to do to achieve our fitness and performance goals.” With 20 races on the calendar, some of them present extreme conditions. Such G-forces are not for everyone, and neck muscles are apparently the trickiest: “It’s the most difficult part of the body to train, so the best thing you can do as a trainer ensures the neck is strong overall and conditioned, and that’s what we do. Warming up the neck prior to jumping to the car is important as it’s a sensitive area, and it’s under the most tension from start to finish.”
There always has to be time to learn and rest.
“We’re working on improving Daniel’s mobility: these guys sit in the car for such long periods, and being so physically and mentally tense makes them really tired,” Michael explains. Obviously, being physically fit would be meaningless if the psychological aspect is ignored. Daniel and Michael also focus on silencing the busy mind of someone as active as the Aussie driver. “You need to learn to be critical and to analyse, and then to also move on because the big picture is what matters most,” Michael believes.
Michael doesn’t worry about Daniel skipping his routine or having the odd bad meal: “When we’re away, we already have a program, and I check with him all the time. I track his sleeping and training patterns, and even if we’re on different continents, we chat every day.”
Michael knows how important a flexible approach can be when you have such a hectic schedule as Daniel does. The Aussie racer is one of the most popular drivers of the grid, and therefore Michael has to adapt Daniel’s preparation schedule to the rest of the driver’s activities: “The build-up for every race is always different, and therefore you must be incredibly diverse in your approach. The schedule is constantly changing, with simulator dates and media days… There always has to be time to learn and rest. And to live your life,” Michael Italiano stresses.
Discipline, consistency, and flexibility. Three words that explain the success of their professional partnership. “The best moment in our work? Monaco. Hands down! I think only a Formula 1 championship title could top it,” Michael adds with a smile.