Daniel Ricciardo learns to cope with Grand Prix pressures at home in Melbourne
Daniel Ricciardo has read the news, scoured social media and heard enough anecdotes from friends to realize this year’s Australian Grand Prix could be the biggest of his Formula 1 career, but he thinks the 2014 event in Melbourne will always remain his defining home race.
With Albert Park ticket sales at record highs after a dramatic 2021 season, the ‘Netflix Effect’ on the sport’s fan base thanks to its Drive to survive series opening up F1 to a new audience and a three-year gap between the Melbourne grands prix, Ricciardo is eager to take to the grid in a home race for McLaren for the first time, with the 2019 Melbourne race doubling down on his debut for Renault.
The 32-year-old believes the 2014 Melbourne race, where he qualified on the front row of the grid for the first time and finished a superb second before his Red Bull Racing machine was disqualified for breaching a fuel flow regulations, was the first moment he was considered one of the best drivers in the sport.
“From what everyone is telling me, I feel like this year is going to be a big one – but for me 2014 was always the most important race because I had just joined Red Bull,” said Ricciardo.
“It was the first race of the season for me and I had a reigning four-time world champion (Sebastian Vettel) as a teammate. It was high stakes because people wanted to know ‘this guy did it. it really?’ I wanted to show the team that it wasn’t too much for me, that I could really do it.
“But in terms of preparation, because Australia hasn’t had a race for so long, they’ve redone the track and it looks like the crowds will be huge – 2022 has the potential to be something quite special. .”
Ricciardo is well aware of the hoodoo that hangs over home drivers at Albert Park; since Melbourne entered the Grand Prix calendar 26 years ago, no local driver has finished on the podium. Although McLaren’s early-season struggles in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before his arrival in Melbourne do not bode well for the end of this drought, he has learned to deal better with being the center of attention.
“It’s extreme with Australia because everything is magnified,” he says. “When it’s great, it’s great… when it’s bad, it’s much more miserable. In 2019 my race was more or less over after five seconds (after he went off track and broke the front wing of his Renault) and it wasn’t the most fun day I’ve had .