MELBOURNE, Australia -- The message 'stop being them,' boldly displayed on Daniel Ricciardo's 2019 helmet, was one which immediately caught the attention of everyone when it emerged in the Melbourne paddock ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo had just completed his much publicised off-season move from Red Bull to Renault, and it didn't take long for him to cause a stir with his new lid. But the message wasn't a dig at his former team, rather a statement he hoped to embody for the 2019 season and beyond.
"It's not targeted at Red Bull, but just having the freedom [with Renault] to do whatever I want, I figured why not go for something crazy and different," Ricciardo said of his helmet design. "So, 'stop being them' is basically just encouragement to be yourself and don't follow trends. If you like going a certain way, then be bold and do it."
Ricciardo, now 29, has always been a little different from everyone else in Formula One. Always the first to crack a joke and lighten a press conference, the Australian has become widely admired for his quirky sense of humour and memorable one-liners, qualities that are quite foreign in modern-day F1.
Nobody can accuse him of not being bold, either. His shock move to Renault is one which is filled with risk, given the French manufacturer has been languishing in the midfield for over a decade now. But Ricciardo's gutsy leap of faith was him telling the world he isn't going to play by the norm. He will be his own man.
The switch to Renault wasn't the only major change Ricciardo underwent at the end of 2018. He also split with long-time manager Glenn Beavis and signed with CAA Sports, the same agency which manages Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo and NBA legend Dwyane Wade. It's clear Ricciardo wants to make a name for himself and escape the Red Bull bubble, one which is just about a 365-day-per-year promotional job.
"What was really nice was I didn't go to an airport for six weeks. I think that was the longest in 10 years that I've been off a plane," Ricciardo said when asked what he enjoyed most in the off-season. "I enjoy being outdoors, hanging out with friends and maybe snapping the neck off a couple of beers."
Given it's his home race and the first event of the year, the Australian Grand Prix was always going to be a hectic weekend for Ricciardo. From the minute he lands at Tullamarine Airport he is mobbed by fans and media all wanting an update on how he's tracking ahead of the new season.
Ricciardo handles it all in a typically cheery and generous fashion, but there's a sense of calm with him that has been absent in previous seasons. For whatever reason, he seems more comfortable with himself and where he finds himself in life.
"Daniel [has been] a fantastic addition to the team," Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul said ahead of Friday practice in Melbourne. "He's inside what he looks like from the outside and he's already making a fantastic contribution."
Free practice was a bit of a rollercoaster for Ricciardo. His weekend began with a seatbelt issue that forced him to miss a chunk of track time and from there he always seemed on the back foot. A disappointing Q2 exit on Saturday wasn't the way he, nor Renault, envisaged the start of the season and it meant Ricciardo would line up on the sixth row of the grid.
But things didn't really improve in the race. Ricciardo lost his front wing before he had even rounded the first corner, forcing him to make a pit-stop at the end of the opening lap. He subsequently dropped back to last place before retiring his Renault on lap 31.
The weekend may not have gone to plan for Ricciardo, but it's only one race of 21 in season 2019. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg believes Ricciardo just needs some time to adjust to his new team before it all starts to click.
"I think he has settled alright, but it takes a little bit of time to really get comfortable for a driver," said Hulkenberg. "It's basically like a new leather shoe, it takes some time to really walk it in and feel it's comfortable and soft. So I think he's in the process of that."