Daniel Ricciardo is both one of the nicest and the fastest people in the world.
The 25-year-old from Perth is back in Melbourne for tomorrow’s Formula One season opener as Infiniti Red Bull racing’s new lead driver and he has a point to prove in his 70th GP race.
A year ago, after taking over from fellow Australian Mark Webber, he posted an incredible second place finish on debut for Red Bull, only to have it snatched away by race officials. After standing on podium before a delighted home crowd, the car was disqualified for exceeding the maximum fuel flow rate during the race. An Australian has yet to place in the Australian GP, but if anyone is going to do it, it will be Ricciardo.
The zen-like, laconic Aussie made up for his disappointment by going on to win three races – Canada, Hungary and Belgium, becoming just the fourth Australian to win an F1 GP – and finishing 3rd in the 2014 driver’s championship. His senior teammate Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, ended the year winless. It was an astonishing turnaround especially after Vettel won 13 races in 2013 and Ricciardo’s success hastened the German’s departure to Ferrari.
Ricciardo’s gently droll Australian humour, delivered with an impish grin, has been noted on the track. When he finally passed Fernando Alonso to take the lead following a tight tussle in the Hungarian GP, he was overheard saying to the pit “that’s how you do it, ladies”.
And yesterday, after a frustrating first practice session, which him slide off the track and engine problems that lead to it being replaced, he described his anxiety about wanting to drive as “ants in my pants”.
Ricciardo’s best lap yesterday was 1 min 31.57 sec to put him in 10th and behind his junior teammate Daniil Kyvat on 1:30.016. He missed the second session while the Renault engine was being changed.
He’s back on the track today, most importantly for the qualifier late this afternoon. He has the talent. All he needs is the car to match it.
And after that, there’s no doubt Ricciardo has the potential to be Australia’s third F1 world champion Jones, after the late Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones, who took the title in 1980.
UPDATE: With qualifier to come, Ricciardo hasn’t had a good afternoon, when the Renault engines seem to be off the pace. His Infiniti Red Bull car stopped just after the pit lane exit halfway through practice session three. He managed to rejoin and finish 15th on the time board, with Russian teammate Daniil Kvyat similarly plagued and missing most of the session to drop to 18th.
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