Daniel Ricciardo has opened up about his darkest days in racing. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Daniel Ricciardo has opened up about his darkest days in racing. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Heartbreaking moment that rocked Ricciardo

DANIEL Ricciardo has opened up on a bleak chapter in his Red Bull career, reflecting on how the tragic death of Jules Bianchi in 2015 rocked Formula 1.

Bianchi, a former driver for Marussia, crashed into a support vehicle at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and was placed in an induced coma with a devastating head injury. The French star eventually died in July 2015, midway through the year's season.

He was the first driver to die as a result of a mid-race injury since Ayrton Senna in 1994 - and the effect on the sport was devastating.

Speaking on Red Bull's final podcast of the season, Ricciardo reflected on the moment Bianchi's death sent a shockwave through the grid.

"A lot happened in 2015, more on a personal level, with life," Ricciardo said.

"Jules' passing affected me more than I ever would have thought. I had a few other things going on in my life at that time that in a way shaped me into this next version of who I am."

Jules Bianchi’s death rocked F1.
Jules Bianchi’s death rocked F1.

Coming off a hot debut season in 2014, which saw him outscore defending champion and teammate Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo was hit with a brutal reality check as his career took an ugly detour.

"The first race back was Budapest and that was my first podium that year, a double podium for the team, and I remember the whole weekend was very emotional," he said.

"To get a podium there felt massive, it was a huge relief and a moment of gratitude."

Bianchi's death still hangs as a shadow over the sport to this day. Young Ferrari star Charles Leclerc, who is the godson of the late driver, said the raw impact of losing his mentor was still fresh ahead of the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix.

The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was a dark day for racing.
The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was a dark day for racing.

"Jules has helped me massively to arrive here, more than only on the racing side. He was a big part of the family. I never came to Japan before; the track walk this morning was quite emotional," Leclerc said.

"For this year, I will have nothing more special than trying to make him remembered as much as I can to the public."

RICCIARDO: 2018 THE HARDEST YEAR YET

Ricciardo admitted he felt a championship was around the corner after shocking Formula 1 with a stunning breakout season in 2014.

The following year presented him with a litany of speed bumps, resulting in just two podiums and 92 points from the year.

But he says that wasn't nearly as painful as 2018.

A dismal eight retirements this season, scattered around two spectacular wins in China and Monaco, skittled the Aussie's momentum and arguably forced him out the door to Renault.

"I thought 2015 was challenging, on and off-track, but this year the on-track stuff's been more challenging than ever," he said.

Daniel Ricciardo has had an unhappy end to his time at Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo has had an unhappy end to his time at Red Bull.

"Also just other things, a lot of people have been trying to help, (I've been) just trying to figure out who is really trying to help and who is not."

Red Bull team principal Chrisitan Horner lamented the loss of Ricciardo, who he believes is the most dangerous overtaker in the game.

"Ever since he got in a Red Bull car he's done nothing but overtake, and arguably has become the best overtaker in the business. He's driven some fantastic races for us," Horner said.

"His personality has been a tremendous fit with the brand. His energy in the team has been hugely popular, the dynamics with him and Max (Verstappen), you've only got to look at the mischief that they get up to - it's been great."