Cover Story Preview: State of the Arts

After the decimation of the past two years, the arts sector is cautiously welcoming back audiences. For the rising dance star Rhys Kosakowski, the hiatus set the stage for a celebration of unapologetic originality.

Article by Andréa Tchacos

The dancer and model Rhys Kosakowski wears Common Hours kimono, Gucci pants, and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Photography by Levon Baird.The dancer and model Rhys Kosakowski wears Common Hours kimono, Gucci pants, and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Photography by Levon Baird.

In March 2020, as cases of the novel coronavirus started to proliferate in Australia and the nation retreated into its first lockdown, live performances were cancelled and cultural venues were shuttered. By April, more than 50 per cent of arts and entertainment businesses had ceased operating. Further lockdowns of varying lengths and severity across the states — not to mention the 704-day international border closure — compounded the pressure on an industry already straining to accommodate unstable funding and a precarious gig economy.

Almost two and a half years on, the effects of the pandemic on the country’s creative sector are yet to be fully understood. Data gathered by government and industry bodies tells a story of cascading cancellations, disproportionate job and income losses, and billions of dollars in missed revenue for one of the worst-affected industries. The future of the arts in Australia is as elusive as ever.

When the first lockdown happened, the Australian dancer and model Rhys Kosakowski had just joined the Sydney Dance Company after almost eight years working overseas — first with the prestigious Houston Ballet, which he joined at age 17, then in Los Angeles, where he expanded his modelling career and burgeoning public profile.

“I got a few months of normality and then it hit,” says the Newcastle-born classical and contemporary dancer, who rose to fame as a 13-year-old playing the titular character in Australia’s “Billy Elliot: The Musical” (he was the first to perform the role outside the United Kingdom). “I was just happy that I was in the company, and by then I’d made such a family and had such a friendship group.

“No-one has really gone through something like that before,” he continues, “but it was amazing to see how well the company stuck together, just doing what we could to stay afloat, like teaching and working online. I didn’t feel alone.”

The dancer and model Rhys Kosakowski wears Kourh jacket and pants, Sir. x Jordan Barrett shirt, Sarah & Sebastian rings, and Gucci boots, gucci.com. Artwork: “Thigh High and Safety Net”, painted on set by Harold David. Photography by Levon Baird.
The dancer and model Rhys Kosakowski wears Kourh jacket and pants, Sir. x Jordan Barrett shirt, Sarah & Sebastian rings, and Gucci boots, gucci.com. Artwork: “Thigh High and Safety Net”, painted on set by Harold David. Photography by Levon Baird.
Kosakowski wears Prada coat and Salvatore Ferragamo boots. Harold David (background) wears his own clothes. Photography by Levon Baird.

Having returned to Australia with an international outlook, Kosakowski, 27, believes that in order to thrive, the local arts scene must focus on what makes it unique. “I think we need to push our Australian identity, as dancers, to keep creating and keep being inspired and keep doing what you don’t see, because that’s what’s so appealing,” he says. “We need to really be our true self and keep pushing it. Hopefully, it will be seen by people overseas, which means it will travel throughout the world.”

The new federal arts minister, Tony Burke, shares Kosakowski’s vision of Australia as an exporter of culture. When the Labor government came to power in May, it did so with a mandate to re-prioritise the arts. Burke has said he is “determined to deliver a better future for Australia’s creative sector”, however questions remain over spending allocation.

It comes in the wake of a coalition government that oversaw damaging cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts and the ABC, merged the federal arts and transport departments before announcing plans to double the cost of humanities degrees in 2020 and, most recently, reduced arts funding by approximately $190 million in its March 2022 budget.

Granted, initiatives such as JobKeeper, the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement and the RISE Fund, introduced by the Morrison government, played a part in offsetting some of the pandemic’s negative impacts for those who qualified. But they do not redress years of systemic erosion of the cultural sector, much less guarantee ongoing security, notes Ben Eltham, the co-author of an influential report by The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work titled “Creativity in Crisis: Rebooting Australia’s Arts and Entertainment Sector After Covid”.

“The stimulus is winding down and the emergency funding that was put in place is winding down, but the pandemic is still with us and you’ve got a lot of uncertainty going forward,” says Eltham, who is a journalist, researcher and lecturer at Monash University’s School of Media, Film and Journalism. “Whatever measure you look at, it’s not back to 2019 levels. A lot of people have simply left the industry, particularly technical workers, production workers, crew. So there’ll be long-term impacts from that,” he says. “In our recommendations for the report, what we were saying is we need to use the opportunity of the crisis to try to reset and reimagine the policy architecture for Australian culture, and set it up for a sustainable longer-term future.”

This is a short extract from our newest issue.

To read the full story, pick up a copy of our new issue in newsagents nationally, order online or subscribe to receive T Australia straight to your letterbox. You will find it on Page 52 of Issue #8, titled “State of the Arts”.

PREVIEW: Elsa In Excelsis

Whether embodying Edenic domesticity or duelling with villains on set, Elsa Pataky brings a singular energy to everything she touches. Now, having completed her most gruelling film to date, she’s finding her flow in Byron Bay — canteen duty and all.

Article by Helen Hawkes

Elsa PatakyPhotography by Pierre Toussaint.

There’s a pivotal moment in the thrill-packed film “Interceptor” (now on Netflix) when the script demands that the actor Elsa Pataky demonstrate heroic pluck of “Die Hard” proportions. Resplendent in fitted combat pants and kick-arse boots, her triceps glistening and singlet soaked in blood and sweat, she hurls herself between the rusty rungs of a missile interceptor in the ocean. It’s classic action film territory: one jaded lone wolf — in this case, the tactical military hand Captain JJ Collins — risks everything to defeat the bad guys and save the world from imminent nuclear destruction.

For the Madrid-born Pataky, who has played the trophy wife, the mistress and the siren, it is a welcome opportunity to show that her skills extend beyond being an object of desire: that she can also be a take-no-prisoners hero. “You planned for every possible outcome,” she spits at her opponent, played by the Australian actor Luke Bracey, “but you couldn’t plan for me.”

“When my daughter [India, 10] says her dad [the actor Chris Hemsworth] is a superhero, I want her to be able to say, ‘My mum is, too,’ ” Pataky tells me, clearly delighted to be playing the lead in an action film — a career first. “I was always a bit of a tomboy, competing with boys to be as strong as them,” she confides, though her delicate bone structure, perfect waves and heavily lashed green eyes make it difficult to imagine.

When she says “strong” — strength being one of her favourite themes — she pronounces it with an apical alveolar trill (the rolled “r” used in Spanish), giving the word its own charming strength. (Pataky also speaks Italian, Romanian, Portuguese and French, and, no doubt, executes a sexy r-roll in all four. The Australian author Matthew Reilly, who co-wrote and directed “Interceptor”, says: “People may not realise that English is not Elsa’s first language — in the months before we filmed, she did an enormous amount of dialect training.”)

So, is Pataky a feminist? She hesitates for a second as she chews over the f-word. “I have boys [twins Tristan and Sasha, eight] and a girl, so I have to be equal and careful in what I say,” she says. “I do make sure my daughter feels she is capable to do whatever she wants to do.” Pataky does feel that women are achieving equality, though “little by little and, like a lot of things, we have to fight for it.

“But I still believe in a strong man,” she continues, “and I still want to watch movies where the man saves the woman, and I don’t want men to be afraid to express their feelings with a woman.”

Elsa Pataky
Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Elsa Pataky
Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

A fan of action movies as a child, Pataky admits she once dreamed of being Indiana Jones. She recalls watching the films with her father, the Spanish biochemist José Francisco Lafuente, who shared her interest but wanted her to have a stable career — not necessarily to follow in the footsteps of Harrison Ford. But when he sees her latest cinematic outing, Pataky says, “He will feel very proud his daughter is the lead in an action film.”

At almost 46, Pataky has a flawless complexion, the only mark an old- Hollywood-style beauty spot above her lip. She’s grateful Reilly wanted “a mature woman” for the “Interceptor” role, but she tempers this by saying, “there are so many more amazing roles now for women, not based around age”. Reilly tells T Australia: “We did consider several actresses, Elsa included, for the part initially. But we kept coming back to her. I can’t imagine any other actress in the role.

“The way she got into physical shape for the part,” he continues. “The way she imbued JJ with certain mannerisms, a singular inner strength and character …” He’s clearly a fan.

Reilly says that Elsa, like her character, possesses “a deep well of gritty determination”. He elaborates: “First, just taking the role was a brave thing to do. This is a tough role: a full-fledged female action lead who is in almost every single shot. Whoever played JJ would be carrying the whole movie.” Secondly, he says, Pataky is “physically very strong, very fit and very, very athletic. When, in the movie, you see JJ leap across a wide gap using only one arm, that’s Elsa doing it. Fights, leaps, jumps, punches and rolls, Elsa did them all.”

Pataky, a yoga devotee and the author of “Strong: How to Eat, Move and Live With Strength and Vitality” (2019), has always subscribed to peak fitness. She and Hemsworth have their own healthy lifestyle app, Centr, and her taut 1.61-metre frame has graced magazine covers from GQ to Cosmopolitan. For “Interceptor”, she began training with the extreme adventurer Ross Edgley six months out from shooting, upping her regular workouts to a daily strength training program that saw her trading pain relief creams with her stunt double. “I had to learn 800 different moves for the fight scenes,” she says. “It was really double the work of a normal movie.”

In one scene, Pataky’s character — cable-tied to a chair, at the mercy of the villains and almost certainly going to die — gives one of the miscreants a speech about respecting women. Reilly recalls: “Elsa did the lines then called me over and said, ‘Matt, I think JJ should do something at the end of this speech to really cap it off. I think she should headbutt him.’ So there I am, with the whole cast and crew watching, thinking about this suggestion. It was a good one, so I said, ‘Yep, let’s do it.’ We did it. It was awesome.”

This is a short extract from our newest issue. To read the full story, pick up a copy of our new issue in newsagents nationally, order online or subscribe to receive T Australia straight to your letterbox. You will find it on Page 52 of Issue #7, titled “Elsa In Excelsis”.

Behind The Scenes of Our Fashion Cover Shoot, ‘Peak Condition’

This season, fashion finds strength in tough fabrics, broad shoulders and fluid tailoring — with flashes of the body beneath.

Article by T Australia

Guy Lab briefs. Bottega Veneta shirt, jeans and rings, and Celine by Hedi Slimane cuffs. Photography by Simon Eeles.Guy Lab briefs. Bottega Veneta shirt, jeans and rings, and Celine by Hedi Slimane cuffs. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Celine by Hedi Slimane blazer and cuff. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Celine by Hedi Slimane blazer and cuff. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Prada jacket and pants. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Prada jacket and pants. Photography by Simon Eeles.

This is an edited extract from our newest edition. To read the full story, pick up a copy of our new issue in newsagents nationally, order online or subscribe to receive T Australia straight to your letterbox. You will find it on Page 60, named “Peak Condition”.

Peak Condition: Our Cover Shoot with Emma Balfour

This season, fashion finds strength in tough fabrics, broad shoulders and fluid tailoring — with flashes of the body beneath.

Article by T Australia

Guy Lab briefs. Bottega Veneta shirt, jeans and rings, and Celine by Hedi Slimane cuffs. Photography by Simon Eeles.Guy Lab briefs. Bottega Veneta shirt, jeans and rings, and Celine by Hedi Slimane cuffs. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Celine by Hedi Slimane blazer and cuff. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Celine by Hedi Slimane blazer and cuff. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Prada jacket and pants. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Prada jacket and pants. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Balenciaga blazer and skirt, and Saint Lauren by Anthony Vaccarello earrings. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Gucci jacket, pants, hat and shoes. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Matteau bikini and Chanel bags. Photography by Simon Eeles.
Photography by Simon Eeles.
Hermes overalls and Bulgari watch. Photography by Simon Eeles.
From left: Matteau bikini. Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello blazer, jeans, earrings and gloves. Matteau bikini. Photography by Simon Eeles.

This is an edited extract from our newest edition. To read the full story, pick up a copy of our new issue in newsagents nationally, order online or subscribe to receive T Australia straight to your letterbox. You will find it on Page 60, named “Peak Condition”.

PREVIEW: When Idris Elba Met Lime Cordiale

An unlikely collaboration between the British actor Idris Elba and the Sydney brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach was a gamble — and a creative flowering for the trio.

Article by Joe Brennan

Idris wears Berluti jacket, berluti.com.Photography by Simon Lipman. Hair by Riaze Blade. Makeup by Jessica DeBruyne.

They never saw it coming. As eager fans filed into Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on a summer night in early 2021, there was little reason for suspicion. They had converged from all corners of the city to spend an hour or two with Lime Cordiale, the pop-rock outfit of brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach. The evening proceeded in the duo’s typical style — a flurry of songs thick with bright, beachy instrumentation and self-aware swank. It was the final date of their east coast tour and they weren’t about to go quietly. As the reverb faded on the sixth track of their set, the band decided they’d take the sold-out home-town crowd by surprise.

Idris Elba appeared from somewhere in the wings. Famed for his roles in “The Wire”, “Luther” and “The Suicide Squad”, the British actor and musician was met with a roar of delirium. The room underwent a kind of meltdown. How, and moreover why, could this be happening? The two musos from Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the international legend. As the band launched into the rippled melody of “Unnecessary Things”, the night became all the more inscrutable and electric. Elba floated across the stage with impish ease as he gifted his guest vocals to the audience. It was only a pair of dark shades, glinting in the swirling downlights, that gave away this impromptu band member as a movie star.

Unbeknownst to the crowd, the unlikely trio was already deep into a studio session that would birth a mini-album, “Cordi Elba”, released in January of this year. It all came together quickly. Elba had just relocated to Sydney to film George Miller’s epic fantasy “Three Thousand Years of Longing” opposite Tilda Swinton. The band was having little luck sourcing the perfect vocalist to appear on a rework of a track. While Elba drove around town on his days off, catching snippets of Lime Cordiale on the radio, the brothers were blasting his boisterous remix of Wiley’s “Boasty” as a daily pre- show ritual. They were each fans from afar. It wasn’t until their mutual publisher at Universal Music pitched them to each other that the penny dropped.

Elba wears Alexander McQueen coat, alexandermcqueen.com; AllSaints shirt, allsaints. com; Giorgio Armani pants; and Dr Martens boots, drmartens.com. Photography by Simon Lipman.
The guitarist Oli Leimbach (above left) and his brother Louis, the lead vocalist, of the Sydney band Lime Cordiale. Photography by Jess Ruby James.

“I think we were all searching for something new,” Oli says. “Maybe we pulled Idris out of the boombox in our green room…. Talked him out like a genie.” Elba is a measure less fanciful. “I was at a junction, musically,” he says, his words punctuated, as they often are, with a cheerful expletive. “I’d joined with a new publisher and they were like, ‘Do you want to do a writing session with Lime Cordiale? Or do you just want to be over there pretending to make music?’ ” His reply: an emphatic “of course”.

That first day in the studio was polite but unsteady. Elba approached the session with trepidation, nervous about proving himself as a lyricist. “I was half expecting them to be like, ‘That’s not what we were really expecting, but thanks. We loved you in “The Wire”,’ ” he deadpans. Likewise, the Leimbachs worried that their would-be collaborator had one eye on the door. When their high-profile guest reached for his phone to pull up a song idea, the pair assumed he was calling himself an Uber to make a hurried escape.

A few hours passed and the track that both sides had signed up for was essentially complete. They were free to wrap things up. Then, fairly unexpectedly, Elba brought out his laptop to workshop a demo — drums, a bassline, a verse of vocals — that he’d made in his trailer on set. Hesitation gave way to febrile excitement. As the trio pored over their most prized references — from the ska theatricality of Madness to the industrial funk of Gorillaz — the atmospheric shift was immediate. They had committed to the experiment.

Elba is known for his roles in “The Wire”, “Luther” and “The Suicide Squad”, the British actor and musician. Photography by Simon Lipman.

This is an edited extract from our exclusive interview with Idris Elba. To read the full interview, pick up a copy of our new issue, on sale in newsagents nationally from Monday, and available to order online now.

To see more of our cover star, watch our exclusive video interview where Elba answers T Australia’s famous rapid fire interview.

Daniel Ricciardo, For The Win

When Ricciardo won the Italian Grand Prix, his affable Perth-boy persona was set to high. Beyond the on-camera capers, he’s all drive — a born competitor aiming to be the fastest in the world.

Article by Emma Pegrum

Daniel Ricciardo wears Gucci jacket, gucci.com; and Casablanca shirt, casablancaparis.com. Photography by Yvan Fabing. Styling by David Bradshaw.

Framed by the rectangular box of our video call, Daniel Ricciardo is grinning. “Part of me still pinches myself,” he says. “How did I end up here? How did Perth and Formula 1 meet?” This last part he says slowly, giving each word its own space as he casts his thoughts to his faraway hometown. He tilts his head to one side, that Colgate smile transmitting bemusement, or perhaps amazement, through the screen.

It’s the Thursday before race weekend. A few days later, that same supercharged smile would beam through the television from the top of the podium at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. Ricciardo had executed a flawless run, breathing life into a difficult first season with his new team, McLaren. The Monza win was McLaren’s first Grand Prix victory in almost nine years and Ricciardo’s first since his much-valorised 2018 effort in Monaco, where he suffered a 25 per cent engine power loss on Lap 28 (of 78) and still defended his lead, making no errors, to win at the notoriously challenging track. It’s an oft-cited example of what makes the 32-year-old driver so good: he’s got grit, he’s got composure and he drives impeccably well.

As with any athlete who becomes a cultural fixation, much mythology surrounds Ricciardo. He’s called a “smiling assassin” and “honey badger”, and some believe the strategic operator’s jovial demeanour is a veil for his assertive driving. Exceptionally late braking and “dummy” moves, executed when overtaking, define his approach — tactical ploys that heighten both risk and reward. Where many drivers tend to bully other cars into submission, Ricciardo utilises clean manoeuvres that take his opponents by surprise. It’s a combination of style and skill that has commentators talk of his “racecraft”: his phenomenal ability to map a race and to get up from positions far back in the grid.

That racecraft is mirrored in his journey to Formula 1 itself. There have been only two Australian champions in the sport’s seven-decade history and while Australia hosts a Grand Prix, our interest in the sport pales in comparison with Europe’s. But once Ricciardo got it in his head that he could make it as a Formula 1 driver, his 2011 debut at the British Grand Prix was, perhaps, inevitable.

Ricciardo wears Bottega Veneta coat, bottegaveneta.com; Emporio Armani boots, armani.com; and stylist’s own T-shirt. Photography by Yvan Fabing. Styling by David Bradshaw.

Ricciardo says he was no prodigy. But he was always determined. He grew up in an Italian Australian family in Duncraig, in Perth’s northern suburbs, and started karting at the age of nine after his father, a hobby motorcar racer, reluctantly bought him a “pretty crappy” go- kart. He says his parents used karting as a bargaining chip: if you’re good at school, you can go to the track. “I’ve always been a competitor with everything I’ve done, so naturally I wanted to then compete and see if I was any good,” he says. “It all took off from there.”

When he finished high school, his parents raised money through family and friends to get him to Europe to compete. It was a gesture of faith the teenager didn’t take lightly; focused where many his age are frivolous, he knew he had to earn his place. “I realised the opportunity I had and there was no way I was going to flush it down the toilet,” he says. “There were other kids in Europe in the same position as me, but I could see in their head they thought they’d already made it. I was switched on enough to see through that.”

On entering F1, Ricciardo admits he was “a little intimidated”, but after too many weekends of the same story — “if only”, “could’ve”, “should’ve” — he soon developed his signature racing style. He became assertive, poised. “I don’t like the feeling of leaving a racetrack with regrets,” he says. “I wasn’t doing myself justice if I didn’t put it all out there. When I went for a move or put my elbows out and stood my ground, it felt amazing. I knew deep down I was a fighter.” Soon enough, he was intimidating other drivers. “That was fun for me,” he says. His performance coach, Michael Italiano, says Ricciardo has “the gift of the feel of the car”. The two met at a boxing gym as pre- teens and started working together in 2018. “He talks to me all the time about how you feel the car in your hips; you feel where the limit is. That’s obviously a rare talent.”

Italiano says Ricciardo has a brain “like a sponge” that absorbs everything he’s told about his car and performance. Along with ambition and an uncanny ability to hold focus and stay calm amid chaos, it is what makes Ricciardo an exceptional competitor. ONZA WAS A welcome reprieve from a string of disappointing results for Ricciardo, not just this year but over the past few. Many had started to wonder what had happened to the speed and promise he’d shown in his younger years.

See more of Daniel Ricciardo in our behind-the-scenes video, and read how renowned stylist David Bradshaw styled Ricciardo on our cover shoot.

Racing for Red Bull, from 2014 to 2018, Ricciardo was on the podium frequently and scored seven wins, practically trademarking his celebratory champagne shoey. But while spending-wise Red Bull was considered to be among the “big three” teams (next to Mercedes and Ferrari), the car wasn’t competitive speed-wise, and the world title eluded Ricciardo as a result. His later years with the team were plagued by engine troubles and difficulties with his young teammate, Max Verstappen (who’s currently locked in a season-long battle for the top spot with Lewis Hamilton).

Those difficulties, it was speculated at the time, prompted Ricciardo’s dramatic move to Renault where, according to reports, he became the sport’s third-highest-paid driver with an estimated $US27 million annual salary (this was disputed by Ricciardo, who was “upset” by the stories). He stayed for just two years and two third-position podiums before making a three-year deal with McLaren, which was heading into the 2021 season on the up. With McLaren, he’s now racing with another notable youngster, the 22-year-old Lando Norris, who, at the time of writing, is well ahead of Ricciardo in the driver standings.

Ricciardo admits this isn’t what he’d expected of his career; by this point, he’d hoped to have won a world title. But there are so many variables beyond the skill of the driver that determine world titles in Formula 1, from budgets and engineering to race plans, pit stops and calamitous collisions. “Some days I really don’t like the sport I chose,” he says, reflecting on its volatility. The win ratio for most Formula 1 drivers — unless you’re, say, Hamilton — is deflatingly low. Ricciardo says his own is probably around one or two per cent. “The highs are really high, but the lows are too often,” he says.

Luckily, it’s in Ricciardo’s nature to embrace happiness as a measure of success. “I’m always reminding myself of the basics, making sure I’m still having fun doing it. That’s why I started racing,” he says. And while he still yearns for the world title, he says his perspective has shifted. “A few years ago, I would have said the world title was everything. Maybe it’s time in the sport or maturity, but I think to pin everything on a world title would be wrong,” he reflects. “I actually think I would regret that.”

Ricciardo wearing Prada jumpsuit and sweater, prada.com; and Alighieri necklace and rings, alighieri.co.uk. Inflatable chair, Villa Twenty Six, villa26.com. Photography by Yvan Fabing. Styling by David Bradshaw.

Taking loss in stride doesn’t come naturally to Ricciardo. “I was definitely a sore loser growing up. I didn’t like that feeling,” he says, shifting slightly, as if being one-upped in his youth still niggles at him. Clearly, he has come a long way. Now it’s light-heartedness that defines his (substantial) public persona. He likes to entertain and leans into some Australian tropes that fascinate and endear him to international spectators — guzzling winner’s bubbly from his dirty racing boot is a prime example.

He is beloved by fans and sponsors alike. Endorsement deals with GoPro, Puma, Amazon and Beats by Dre play to his off-track enthusiasms, like his love of fashion and music. Passionate about the latter, he has invested in a London music venue with his friend the keyboardist Ben Lovett, of Mumford & Sons, hinting at the possibilities for life after Formula 1.

Google Ricciardo’s name and you’ll find mashups of his funniest media moments and most congenial on-track team radio shouts. There’s a video of him taking questions from a room of primary-schoolers, who grill him about his favourite film (“Dumb and Dumber” for his love of Jim Carrey), whether he likes pineapple on pizza (“I’ll eat it,” he says — just imagine the dismay of his ancestors) and what kind of fuel Formula 1 cars use (he doesn’t know). He has a YouTube series titled “No Brakes”, a string of POV-style episodes that follow Ricciardo as he hikes mountains, dirt-bikes and jams with the Australian indie rock group Gang of Youths.

You can see he loves performing for the camera. “I’m a show-off, he says. “I like standing out.” It’s part of why he got into Formula 1 in the first place. “It was a way for me to be different, do my own thing.” That desire is also reflected in his entrepreneurial pursuits, as in his merchandise line, which includes lounge shorts in baby blue and T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Enchanté”. The line’s promotional campaign features a decked-out Ricciardo chilling on a boat in the sparkling waters of the French Riviera. The launch of Ricciardo’s wine, DR3, made in collaboration with the South Australian producer St Hugo, kicked off with a promo video that has to be peak-Ricciardo, involving a fireplace and dignified burgundy blazer.

Ricciardo wears Gucci blazer; Alighieri necklace; and stylist’s own T-shirt and scarf. Photography by Yvan Fabing. Styling by David Bradshaw.

He might know how to perform, but Ricciardo is not inauthentic or arrogant. He always looks at ease, so comfortable in his own skin that he’s actually goofy, even a bit of a loser in the way that, nowadays, being a loser is cool. The McLaren Racing chief-executive, Zak Brown, says that Ricciardo is the “biggest personality in the sport”. He adds, in his smooth Californian tone: “He speaks his mind, regardless of the topic. He’s a very authentic and genuine person. You can have successful drivers that aren’t that exciting, and you can have successful drivers who are very exciting. Daniel falls into that very exciting category.”

Speaking to Ricciardo, it’s clear that his carefree attitude constitutes more than just a cover for his killer instinct — it’s part of how he sustains his sense of self and his success. That affable, unruffled exterior is just one setting of his always-on competition mode, his opposing seriousness another.

I was prepared for him to be overly humorous in our conversation, to use comedy as a way of evading my questions or to lighten the mood as he so often does on television. (In one interview, the journalist asks him what he plans to be after F1. He deadpans: “Probably a male stripper.”) But when we speak, he is thoughtful and considered. He describes the moment on race day when he switches between the two faces: from being the funny guy everyone loves to the F1 driver out to depose his enemies.

“Walking to my car, I can just be joking around or laughing, but once I get the helmet on, or put the headphones on to listen to music, something comes over me.” It would be remiss to underestimate his hunger to win, but Ricciardo tells me that’s not what motivates him. “I definitely believe I can,” he says of claiming the world title. “But it’s actually the competition, that’s why I get out of bed. The winning is the icing on the cake.”

A 1969 McLaren M7C Formula 1 car, which was driven by the company’s founder, the racecar driver and designer Bruce McLaren.

His performance coach, Italiano, affirms this. “He truly, truly believes he’s the fastest in the world. I can see it when he says it,” he says ardently. “He wants to prove that he is the best in the world. I think that’s as strong a purpose as you’ll get in competitive sport.” A love of competition can get you further than a love of winning. The latter can be shallow and easily waver, while the former endures, each bump in the road adding fuel to the fire.

Still, one does wonder why people keep believing in Ricciardo’s exceptionalism despite his mixed results — why he keeps believing. Wins like that at Monza are the reason: when all the variables fall into place, he delivers the flawless performance the moment demands, like only champions can.

He loves the danger of Formula 1 racing, he says, the challenge and the pressure of it. The expectations that have been mounting since he was a teenager only make him stronger, and his strength appears to grow with every missed opportunity as much as every win. “He’s very brave,” says Brown. “He’s committed. He’s proven time and time again he’s a world champion-calibre driver. He’s struggled at times this year but he pushes hard through it. We just need to continue to work hard together to push ourselves further up the grid.”

Can he win? By all accounts, yes. Will he? The composure with which Ricciardo broaches questions about the future is convincing. “I’m now at a point where I’m just taking it race by race,” he says. “The older I get, I appreciate that this is not going to be around forever. I’m not going to be competing on a world stage for, probably not even the next 10 years.” That realisation makes him determined to “thrive in it and enjoy it. I know I’ll miss it when it’s gone.”

It’s not a faux sentiment. It’s the kind of acceptance that comes from true, unapologetic self-possession. His deep desire to win the title seems to be fused with an even deeper commitment to trusting in his process: an absolute belief that he can, will, if he just remains steadfast. When he crossed the finish line at Monza, Ricciardo’s voice came over the team radio: “Deep down I knew this was gonna come,” he said, his words at once ecstatic, composed and grateful. “Thanks for having my back. And for anyone who thought I left,” he added, presumably less for his team and more for the naysayers outside it, “I never left.”

Ricciardo is a candid guy, but I suspect his inner monologue — the one that steers him through life and competition — is as methodical as his actions on the track. In that sense, and in a pleasant kind of paradox, Ricciardo is both impenetrable and, ultimately, uncomplicated. “As a kid, I looked at drivers as these superheroes,” he says, recalling the days he spent trackside. “The sound, the smell. [That’s] what I fell in love with.” And here he is now, a kid from Perth who loves to race. A competitor who loves to win. And a person, just trying to enjoy the drive.

See more of Daniel Ricciardo in our behind-the-scenes video, and read how renowned stylist David Bradshaw styled Ricciardo on our cover shoot.

Grooming by Tomi Roppongi at Saint Luke. Set design by Andrew Tomlinson at Streeters. Creative production by Sunday Service. On set production by Noir Productions. Thanks to the team at McLaren and the McLaren Technology Centre.

A version of this article appears in print in our fourth edition, Page 73 of T Australia with the headline:
“For The Win”
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