Ten years ago, a young Aussie scored two points on his Australian Grand Prix debut for the little Italian team known as Minardi. On Sunday at the Qantas Australian Grand Prix, another young Aussie did exactly the same thing for the team that turned from Minardi into Scuderia Toro Rosso – and did it after a first lap that could hardly have been more disastrous.
Mark Webber’s two points on debut in 2002 remains one of the most memorable moments in Albert Park history, but Daniel Ricciardo’s dream of scoring on his home debut looked to be over before it began.
The West Australian made a slow start from 10th on the grid and found himself in the middle of a first-corner crash that involved Bruno Senna.
The Brazilian’s Williams was sent skywards after the clash, after which Ricciardo limped back to the pits for a new front nose and re-joined in 21st place.
The 22-year-old spent much of the race in the lower midfield, but a safety car as a result of Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham expiring on the start-finish straight on lap 37 brought him back into contention for points.
Ricciardo was 12th and pushing teammate Jean-Eric Vergne on the final lap before Pastor Maldonado crashed the Williams at Turn 6 while in sixth place.
Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes slowed to a crawl moments later.
Ricciardo then passed Vergne at Turn 13 and powered through the final three corners to take a remarkable ninth place, edging Paul Di Resta’s Force India by one-tenth of a second after 94 minutes of racing.
Ricciardo admitted to being a little stunned at how he managed to finish in the points after a manic final lap.
“It’s mixed emotions for me, but the final emotion was good!” he beamed afterwards.
“To get into the points on the final lap was a great result, and the race pace today was actually very good. For us to come back from where we did is a huge result.
“Keeping my nose clean would have made it much better, but to get this result … if we can continue this pace in the next few races, we’ll definitely be getting some more points.”
Ricciardo admitted he thought his much-anticipated home Grand Prix wouldn’t even last one lap after his Turn 1 trouble.
“The start wasn’t exactly in my plans, and I was just grateful that I could continue because I had a pretty heavy contact, and I’m sure there was more damage than just the front wing,” he said.
“Maybe it could have been better, but it was great to come back the way we did.”
Ricciardo’s first race at home has been a whirlwind week of press and sponsor appearances and adulation from the fans on a level that he’s never before experienced. He says he’ll be buzzing from his points finish for a while yet, but admits that a good rest sometime in the coming days before next Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix is on the agenda.
“There’s been all sorts of emotions that have passed through me this weekend, and in some ways it’ll make the rest of the season seem a lot easier,” he said.
“In that aspect it was good to get the race out of the way, but the last week has been awesome, and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.”