SINGAPORE (Oct 1): They are stars in their own right; one is a swimmer, the other a race car driver, and both have gained international recognition in their fields. Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Daniel Ricciardo is an Australian racing driver currently competing for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in the Formula 1 championship.

Ricciardo was in town for the Singapore Grand Prix last month. Seizing the opportunity, Options asked them to be journalists for the evening and interview each other. The brief was simple: Relax and have fun. The chemistry between the quiet Singaporean and the laid-back Aussie was obvious and the result was an interview that provided insights into both personalities. As the conversation flowed, we discovered more about their lives, experiences and views on TAG Heuer’s tagline, Don’t Crack Under Pressure.

Their ease with each other was perhaps due to the fact that earlier that evening, both had participated in a “cook-off”, pitting their culinary skills against each other. The challenge organised by Swiss luxury watch brand TAG Heuer saw Ricciardo trying his hand at an Asian-style pasta of black pepper crab spaghetti while Schooling created a prawn aglio olio.

From the balmy outdoors at ION Orchard, the two then made their way to the air-conditioned comfort of the TAG -Heuer boutique for this very special 20-minute session.

From Joseph Schooling to Daniel Ricciardo

JS: What is it about TAG Heuer that you find appealing?

DR: I think about TAG Heuer in motor sports; they’ve been around for a long time, so there’s a history. It’s quite a prestigious brand in our sport. I think of the heritage, and I think of the similarities with watches and cars, such as the mechanics, blueprint and the precision involved in all that. So, yes, that’s one of the big fascinations and appeals for me.

JS: How do you prepare for a race?

DR: Honestly, nothing special, I don’t have a real set routine. I’m in bed by 10pm, and I have to get eight hours of sleep or I’m not going to perform. There are so many variables and you have to be flexible. I mean, [during] the week of the race, I’ll try to eat and sleep and do the basics well. There are variables and you don’t want to wake up on race day thinking, ‘I only slept for four hours’. There’s no way I can perform.

JS: Yes. That would be terrible; it’s like a mental block.

DR: You just got to be flexible but, yes, [I] try and minimise activities that are going to take energy away from me and put it all towards Sunday [the final race day]. And even on race day, it’s like trying to conserve [energy] until the time of the race. It’s so easy to wake up and just want to go, but you have to be sensible and know that you have a little storage tank and use it at the right moment.

JS: It’s like a marathon, huh?

DR: A little bit. [Like] an all-day marathon.

JS: What does it take to be an F1 driver? I’ve been an F1 fan my whole life. Michael Schumacher is my favourite driver.

DR: I want to say I don’t know because I still pinch myself. I was a fan and you dream of being here, but I never really thought I would be here, and it kind of feels like it happened and all of a sudden I’m here. But, look, I think getting to the top of anything, any sport, any business, any real dream that you want to chase, you need to be driven and it needs to be your dream and your choices. It cannot be because your dad or someone’s pushing you to do it. I think just having the passion for it and, honestly, with competition, you know it’s what gets you up.

JR: It’s the thrill.

DR: Exactly. Knowing that we’re competing against all nationalities around the world... it’s like, can I, from my little city in Australia, be better than this guy from America? This guy from London? That’s kind of what drives me.

JR: How did you get into racing? Was it because of your father’s influence? I understand he collected cars.

DR: Dad was a big car enthusiast. He is a motor sport nut, I guess; he does know more about cars than me. But here I am, making it my career. He never forced me, but I think I got it from him. He did a bit of racing when I was a baby, so I would be at the race track on weekends watching him, and I think the noise, the speed, the smell of the fuel and everything... just got me hooked. I told dad one day, when I was tall enough to drive a go-kart: ‘You need to buy me one.’ Basically, I wanted to race. Mum was against it because it was dangerous and I was only eight years old at the time. Eventually, they realised I wasn’t going to let this go, so [dad] did buy me, at the time, the crappiest, oldest go-kart to try and steer me off it, but I thought it was the coolest.

JR: Give me one example where you did not ‘Crack Under Pressure’.

DR: I’ll go to my first win in F1. That was in Canada in 2014 and to cut a long story short, I had a lot of belief that I could do it. I believed that I could win and be at the top. I believed that I could put myself in that position, under that pressure; but until you’re leading a race and until you’re actually there, it’s like I was two laps away from the finish and I got the lead. Then I had thoughts like: Are my hands going to freeze? Am I still going to be able to shift gears? Can I actually handle this pressure? And, fortunately, I could and it felt natural, it felt great. That was my Don’t Crack Under Pressure moment.

From Daniel Ricciardo to Joseph Schooling

DR: Which watch are you wearing today? Tell me more about it.

JS: I’m currently wearing the Carrera. Right now, it’s my favourite watch — -super sweet, very casual — and I can wear it with a suit, so it kind of kills two birds with one stone and it looks amazing.

DR: Looks good.

JS: Thank you.

DR: Blue’s my colour.

JS: Blue’s my favourite colour too, so it’s perfect.

DR: I mean, you spend a lot of time in a blue environment.

JS: Yes. Too much, sometimes.

DR: What was running through your head the minute you knew you won the Olympic gold medal?

JS: Honestly, nothing. Nothing was going through my head. It’s like a bajillion different emotions going through my mind and I did not know how to react. Everything happened so fast, so quickly... so many things. If my life depended on me remembering what I was thinking at the moment, I’d be dead. It was all a blur. But it was a huge thrill, adrenaline kicks in, you don’t know what’s going on, and it’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve had so far.

DR: I want to follow up on that. At what point did it sink in? At what point did you actually look in the mirror and recognise what you had done?

JS: That’s a good question. Honestly, I’d say not till many, many months after the race. It was unreal. I went back to school right after, back to class. My coach tried to drag me into the pool, but I wasn’t having any of it. I needed a break. I accomplished my goal so far and I just wanted nothing to do with swimming. So, it was probably around almost a year until it kind of hit me — ‘you won the Olympics’. It’s something you can’t really force [yourself] to come to terms with. It just happens. One day, something’s just going to hit you. If I had to go back and change something, I would probably reflect a lot earlier. You know, you need to come to terms with something like that before you can move on to the next goal. So, it took me awhile to come to terms with what happened and I was kind of caught up in this grey area for quite some time last year.

DR: Like the competitiveness, like you’re also looking to the next thing, you don’t always appreciate the moment.

JS: Exactly, because so many things are going on, you don’t know what to do; you just get on with it.

DR: Sometimes, it is scary to reflect on the moment because when you achieve such a massive accomplishment, it’s kind of, in a way, overwhelming. Like, ‘I did that? I don’t want to think about that.’

DR: What were your growing-up years like?

JS: I’ve always been super competitive. My first coach, he used to make bigger kids put on fins and just go 10 seconds ahead of me for one lap and I’d be here, behind, no fins, smaller than them, younger than them and he knew in his mind there was no way I could catch [up with] them, but every 50m, I tried my hardest. I hated losing and this was when I was three or four years old. I would throw massive temper tantrums at practice. I’d be like, ‘this is stupid and I’m not going to win’. I wondered, ‘why are you doing that’ and I got so angry... you know... you got to have that fighting spirit if you want to be the best in the world at anything. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. That’s just how sports is and so, growing up, I think you’re either born with [the X factor] or you’re not. Some people can switch it on, some people just can’t. They train hard and practise, they go to the race and they just get stunned. Like what you were talking about, the last two laps, they crack under pressure. You didn’t. You were born with it. And so I think a lot of it has to do with upbringing and whether you have the X factor growing up.

DR: I understand that you now have a swim school. What do you hope to achieve with that?

JS: [In the past,] Singapore wasn’t really known for as a sporting nation and after the Olympics, a bunch of people realised that they could do things that previously everyone thought they couldn’t do. So after the Olympics, we opened up the Schooling Sport Academy and Swim Schooling. That’s just basically a way to get kids to be more active, teach kids to be more water-safe. My dad almost drowned twice when he was growing up, so that’s one of the reasons he put me in swimming, because he didn’t want me to go through that. So, we started the swim school for numerous reasons and a few of them would be: water safety, to get kids active and, also, swimming is a great sport — it’s not -injury-prone, it’s great for your body and great for your joints.

DR: Give me one example where you did not Crack Under Pressure.

JS: Okay. I’ll use the Olympics for this one, the cliché.

DR: Now you’re just bragging.

JS: No. I’d rather win an F1 race. That’s pretty sweet. But Rio was huge. Swimming with guys like [Michael] Phelps, Chad [le Clos], Laszlo [Cseh], and a bunch of other great swimmers. It’s anyone’s race, really. I remember riding the bus over at night. I raced at 11 o’clock at night. That’s when the finals were — 11.30pm. I remember riding on the bus and I almost cried because, first, I qualified for the final, and I knew I was in a great spot, I knew I had a lot to give but it was just this huge, emotional roller-coaster ride. I’d been training for it, you know. I started since I was four and you’re training for this moment that’s about to happen and you’re just trying to control your emotions. It almost feels like your stomach’s in your throat and you got to go race against Phelps.

DR: Who is Phelps? I’ve never heard of him. Is he just another dolphin trainer? Seriously, that must have been intimidating.

JS: Yes. That was nuts and that’s one of the moments I didn’t Crack Under Pressure, thankfully.

DR: I can imagine the start, but it’s that moment once you enter the water, [when] some of that pressure is released because the anticipation sometimes is the worst part.

JS: Exactly. That’s correct, for sure. It’s almost like that build-up. And I’m guessing, when you start, is that the most nervous you are?

DR: Yes. The lights go on and you’re like ‘oh, all right’ and you sort of get into a rhythm.

JS: Do you think that first warm-up lap helps to relieve the pressure?

DR: I don’t know. It kind of just makes it drag on a bit longer. Sometimes I wish the race would start once I wake up.

This article appeared in Issue 850 (Oct 1) of The Edge Singapore.

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