The build-up to any grand prix weekend is invariably a crazily busy time for F1 drivers, packed as they are with meet and greets, and by and large our drivers get stuck into each one with an engaging amount of enthusiasm. But in a sea of such activities there’s one simple word that is guaranteed to push their enthusiasm to new levels of frenzied eagerness, and that word is – karting.
Yep, tell a driver that his pre-race schedule involves battling around a purpose-built track in a properly prepped competition kart and chances are he'll be out the door and into a cab, in full race suit, before you can say "here's your helmet bag".
It was super-grippy, really tight and twisty, and it was a lot of fun.
And so it was this afternoon in Shanghai with Daniel Ricciardo. Within minutes of landing at the city's Pudong airport the Aussie was headed towards the Feyting Club go-kart circuit to hook up with local fans and partners for an afternoon of full-tilt karting action.
Indeed, so enthusiastic was Daniel for the event that he'd even brought along one of his own Ricciardo Kart machines, a sweet looking KZ-ready racer. However, the shiny new kart wasn't the only centre of attention at the impressive circuit, built into the underground car park of a shopping mall.
Instead, most of the excitement was reserved for Daniel's spectacular new haircut, which appears to be some sort of curly mop top confection accompanied by fairly radical short back and sides. "I'd better explain myself – the hair. I don't want to make a big deal about it, but it's completely for weight saving," he smiled before sheepishly admitting the new 'do' was the result of an ambitious plan gone wrong.
"I thought it would be a good idea for one of my friends to try to cut it," he said. "But it didn't quite work out, so we had to do a last-minute decision before my flight and get some guy to come in and do the best he could. And this is the best of a bad scenario.
"Some sick feeling inside my stomach tells me that it's going to grow on me – literally but also in terms of taste," he admitted. "Hopefully it will grow back soon. Anyway my engineer is excited as I've saved about 300 grammes."
The somewhat unconventional, not to say plain weird, weight advantage was quickly made evident on the twisting underground track layout. Aboard the Ricciardo Kart Daniel threw in a few no-holds-barred laps to the delight of the fans present and having set a new lap record of 00:28.897 for local racers to try and beat, he was full of praise for the unique location.
"It's pretty cool venue, an underground go-kart track. It was super-grippy, really tight and twisty, and it was a lot of fun. Also, the guys hooked me up with my Ricciardo Kart, so we turned some laps in that. I put in a quick time, which was good."
As ever, Shanghai's F1 fans were out in force for the event as Daniel was impressed by the turnout and by the gifts his Chinese fans had brought along. "We've been welcomed by a lot of fans here," he said. "And, as always, the Chinese give some gifts. Apparently it's the year of the monkey this year and red is good luck and so I got [a red monkey] from a lady called Lorraine who is here every year, giving me gifts. She's a loyal Ricciardo fan, which is cool!"
With his track time over Daniel was then able to spend some time with his fans at a signing session at which the Aussie also presented the winners of the fans' karting event with t-shirts and a signature on the lid of each driver.