Australian Formula 1 racing driver is back on home soil for Christmas and today hundreds of Melbourne fans got to cheer the Infiniti Red Bull racing team’s new lead driver.
It’s been an amazing year for the 25-year-old from Perth, who outshone his team’s now-departed number one, Sebastian Vettel, by winning three races and finishing 3rd in the 2014 driver’s championship, becoming just the fourth Australian to win an F1 Grand Prix.
Vettel, one-time nemesis of Ricciardo’s fellow Aussie Mark Webber, ended the year winless.
Ricciardo quickly became one of the hottest properties in F1, but after Business Insider had the chance to meet and talk to him this week, we’re also convinced he’s one of the loveliest and most unassuming blokes in sport notorious for big egos.
The proof came as he did a meet-and-greet with the crowd at Melbourne Emporium. He spotted one woman and cried out “Ms Tati!”
A decade ago in Perth, Nadia Tati was Ricciardo’s Italian teacher for three years at high school.
The F1 driver, who now lives in Monaco, stopped to give her a hug and say hello and have his photo taken with “Ms Tati”.
Tati, who now lives in Melbourne, told Business Insider she was shocked he recognised her.
So what was he like as a student?
“He was very chatty – he hasn’t changed,” she said.
And in news that will provide both argument and inspiration to countless teenage boys that they’ll turn out just fine, apparently Ricciardo never did his homework.
“He was always out racing,” Tati said. “He told me he’d be a Formula One driver on day.”
His relaxed, natural charm also got him out of tight corners, “so basically he got away with it”.
Tati is impressed by how her student’s turned out.
“I think he’s a good role model for young people today,” she said.
It was just 10 months ago that motor racing fans suddenly realised just how good Ricciardo was, when, having replaced fellow Australian Webber on his debut race for the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team, he finished second at the Melbourne Grand Prix.
To the dismay of both the team and Australian fans, Ricciardo was disqualified for exceeding the maximum fuel flow rate on his car.
He explained to fans today that that wasn’t the important part.
“What happened on the Sunday before the disqualification was amazing to stand up there on the podium and to see a sea of Aussie fans is something they’ll never be able to take away from me and something I’ll always remember.
“The disqualification obviously hurt a little bit, but still I was proud about what I did. Just to stand on the podium was really cool, so they can’t take the rest'” he said.
Ricciardo will be back, this time to take it all, at the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix next year.