Formula One’s Daniel Ricciardo might seem like an odd member of the Buffalo Bills fan club.
The McLaren star, one of F1’s most popular drivers and the winner of last month’s Italian Grand Prix, is the kind of person you associate with the sun. He grew up on Australia’s west coast and like most of his F1 rivals he lives amid the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo. His NBA team is the L.A. Lakers, his MLB team the L.A. Dodgers.
For the NFL, he seemingly also had a ready-made excuse to pick one of the Bills’ AFC North rivals, the New England Patriots.
The list of people who have caught a pass from Tom Brady sounds like a trivia night question, but Ricciardo can put his own spin on that claim to fame. As part of a promotional event at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, Ricciardo, stood on one yacht in the Monte Carlo harbour, caught a pass thrown by then-Patriot Brady, stood on another yacht.
To most that would be a gift-wrapped reason to have supported the Patriots. Ricciardo didn’t want it.
“Obviously I met Brady and that was amazing, and awesome. But it would have felt like a bandwagon,” Ricciardo tells ESPN, speaking ahead of next weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix (Oct. 24, 1.30PM, live on ABC).
“The Brady pass was surreal. Not just to receive the pass, but to do yacht to yacht was crazy.
“First one I caught, then I got cocky and said ‘let’s go further [back]’. We reversed the boat and I didn’t quite catch the next couple.
“[But] everyone was Brady and Patriots, so I thought I’d do something a little different.
“I forced myself not to go for a California team. I was like, let’s change it up a little. I thought I’m going to go for something a little out of the box.”
‘Out of the box’ for Ricciardo was Buffalo. Supporting the Bills right now might seem like jumping on a bandwagon — sitting at 4-1 atop the AFC North, the Bills seem like sure-fire Super Bowl contenders and quarterback Josh Allen is firmly in the MVP conversation. It feels like it could be Buffalo’s year.
But Ricciardo started noticing the Bills a few before all that started. Allen, who Ricciardo met at the Monaco Grand Prix one year after his Brady catch, first got his attention.
“He’d already made a name for himself but was a star on the rise. It’s been really cool to follow him.”
Ricciardo also couldn’t help shake the feeling that there was something distinctly Australian about the Bills. That might sound strange on the surface – the Bills are trending up, but the temperatures in upstate New York are going in the other direction. After all, there’s a reason Ricciardo’s other U.S. sports teams are all out west.
Asked if he’s been to a Bills game yet, Ricciardo, who attended Super Bowl LIV at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium as a neutral fan, laughs and says: “No.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, I hate the cold! So it’s very weird that I’ve chosen to support the Bills.
“I would struggle. I don’t have enough body fat to deal with those temperatures.”
You don’t have to search the internet long to find videos of Buffalo fans, affectionately known as the Bills Mafia, and how they celebrate. Whether drinking in cold or throwing themselves — or each other — through tables, the Bills are renowned for celebrating win or lose.
Ricciardo, who famously celebrates victories by filling his sweaty race boot with champagne and chugging it, before getting the other drivers on the podium with him to do the same, says the Bills fan base reminded him of what the atmosphere is like watching sports with his friends in Australia.
“To be honest, mate, every week I’d see something viral on Instagram with the Bills Mafia. It kind of reminds me of my mates back home.
“It is a team we would support. It speaks our language.
“I think they’re all having a good time. By the sounds of it they’re very loyal fans. I know as well the Bills Mafia has a big charity, another incentive to get behind them. It’s giving back to the community and I thought that was pretty cool as well.”
The respect between Ricciardo and Allen is mutual.
Like a lot of new F1 fans, Allen is a convert thanks to Netflix’s wildly successful Drive to Survive series. The show has seen a huge rise in interest in F1, especially in the States. Allen’s fellow NFL star JJ Watt tweeted his new-found love for the sport earlier this season, prompting an invite to a future race from reigning world champions Mercedes.
Allen said anyone who watches the show would be a fan of Ricciardo, who he shares an agency with in CAA Sports.
“Obviously anybody that watches that show understands the type of person Daniel Ricciardo is, he just seems like such a fun, vibrant person to be around,” Allen tells ESPN.
“I like to associate myself with people like that. I’m a big fan of his.”
The Ricciardo link has been fun for Allen. He was driving in to Buffalo’s facility ahead of a game with the Steelers as Ricciardo claimed a popular win at the Italian Grand Prix in September, the Australian’s first victory since Monaco in 2018 when the pair met.
“I wake up every Sunday to watch. Saturdays I check qualifying, obviously we’re kind of here [at the facility], but I wake up on game days and I usually turn it on the radio or get my phone somehow to play while I’m driving.
“That Pittsburgh was really cool, driving in the stadium and seeing that he’d won.”
Drive to Survive opened Allen’s eyes to a world of racing he previously knew nothing about. Bingeing through the show helped make him appreciate just how complicated the championship can be.
“I just love cars. The Formula One cars are absolutely crazy, I love the noise that they make.
“The whole surrounding around it, how particular it is. There’s so many intricate rules that not many people know about.
“It’s so much more than people just driving their laps, it’s such a strategic game when you have two drivers [in a battle], they pit some guys to try and get them in front of one person and slow them down. It’s unbelievable how much goes into it.”
The U.S. Grand Prix starts with Friday practice on Oct. 22, followed by qualifying on Oct. 23 and the race itself on Oct. 24.
Additional reporting by Alaina Getzenberg.