Daniel Ricciardo was seeing red at 110kmh on a road trip across Western Australia with his best mate Blake Mills.
Not because he wasn’t driving at F1 speed, but from the red dirt all around him and the spectacular burnt red sunsets and sunrises along the Coral Coast Highway between the UNESCO world-heritage listed regions Ningaloo Marine Park and Shark Bay.
“I’m a sucker for sunsets. Every one of them just seem so unique and I think WA has some of the best,” Ricciardo said.
The F1 star is a new ambassador for Tourism WA and set out to discover some of the state’s spectacular landscapes, wildlife, outback station stays, stargazing under a billion-star sky and cultural experiences with Mills, his best mate of 20 years since they met racing go-karts at ages 10 and 11.
The banter was as vast as the countryside with Mills, a Perth father of two who runs his own drainage business, declaring himself the better mechanic and safer driver.
“Daniel focuses too much time singing out to his favourite songs and not on the road!” Mills laughed.
The pair have had only one fight in 20 years – over a video game when they were kids – and Ricciardo said reconnecting with his childhood buddy over 1200km in their home state was special.
“The road trip gave us that sense of freedom … and discovery. It’s rare these days where I can just spend quality, uninterrupted time with such a good friend. The road trip just gave us the perfect opportunity to catch up, reminisce and hang – it was awesome.”
The adventure junkies described the nine-day trip as “unforgettable”, especially snorkelling over coral gardens teeming with colourful fish to swim with the world’s biggest fish – the spectacular whale sharks of Ningaloo.
“You put your head underwater and the first time you lay eyes on this shark, it’s 8ft and then some, it really did take me out of my comfort zone,” Ricciardo said. “Hopefully it doesn’t come across too much on camera, but I wasn’t exactly relaxed jumping into the water.”
Mills said watching Dan’s nerves build up before swimming with the whale sharks was one of the funnier moments, but visiting Bullara Station was the most breathtaking.
“Camping out at Bullara Station was one of my favourite experiences. Nothing more relaxing than laughing with mates over a cold beer by a campfire and watching all the stars light up the night’s sky.”
Riccardo’s highlight was hanging with Darren ‘Capes’ Capewell at Shark Bay.
“Capes is a descendant of the Nhanda and Malgana people and he explained the importance of not only connecting with each other, but connecting with the land itself. Being able to learn about the traditions, the values and that approach which is even more powerful today, is something that I won’t forget. “
Ricciardo, who has just signed a two-year extension with F1 team Alpha Tauri, admitted he enjoyed the “less stressful” and more comfortable pace of road tripping as he recovers from a broken hand.
“I love driving an F1 car but every bump on the track goes through your entire body, you’ve got engineers in your ear all race and I can’t exactly reach for a hot coffee on Turn 1. A few of those little luxuries made a big difference on the road trip, well at least compared to an F1 car.”
Ricciardo said many people don’t realise WA rates up there for the best road trips in the world.
“We tend to forget or ignore what we have in our own backyard. WA is truly special. I’m just thankful that we made the effort to go on that adventure,” Ricciardo said of his time with Mills.
“It might sound weird, but the open road did make me realise how good of friends we actually are. I’d do it again tomorrow.”