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Flying the flag

EVENT COUNTDOWN

ALBERT PARK

12-15 MARCH 2015

Ten years ago, Daniel Ricciardo was trackside as Mark Webber made a stirring Formula One debut at home. This Sunday, the young Australian is looking to make his own mark on Albert Park.

March, 2002. A 12-year-old Formula One fan sits with his mum and dad in a grandstand along the start-finish straight at Albert Park, cheering on local hope Mark Webber as he takes an unlikely fifth place on debut for Minardi.

One of the most memorable moments in Australian Grand Prix history – and one that lit a fuse in the impressionable youngster.

Fast-forward 10 years, and Australia has two locals on its own starting grid for the first time in World Championship history– and one of them is that youngster, Daniel Ricciardo.

The affable 22-year-old from Perth said the reception given to Webber 10 years ago was something that still sits in the forefront of his mind.

“It’s quite a proud feeling,” Ricciardo said. “I remember watching Mark here making his debut, and I would have never imagined that 10 years later I’d be here on the grid with him.

“The whole crowd was just so behind him; that’s the thing I remember most. We couldn’t believe it that he was in a Minardi and fifth on the last lap. When he crossed the line, the emotion … everyone was just so pumped. The feelings I had that day were something I thought that I would have loved to have experienced from his position.”

Ricciardo visited Albert Park last March on his first weekend as test and reserve driver for Toro Rosso, a role he fulfilled until last year’s British Grand Prix, when he was loaned by Red Bull to back-markers HRT to further his Formula One education.

After 11 Grands Prix with the Spanish team Ricciardo was elevated to a Toro Rosso race seat alongside Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, replacingJaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi.

Dan knows he needs to make an impression straight away, starting here this weekend.

“I’m not going to treat (2012) as a learning year – it could be my one and only year if it’s not good enough,” the pragmatic Ricciardo said.

“I’ve got to step up and do as good as I can. Of course I’d love a podium, I’d love a win … but the main thing for me is that I need to get as much out of the car as possible.”

Ricciardo is nine months older than F1 rookie Vergne. There may only be 11 Grand Prix starts on his CV, but the Australian is seen by many as Toro Rosso’s de facto team leader this season.

“No-one has said to me that I have to be the leader, but I expect it of myself to have a bit of an edge,” Ricciardo said.

“If (Vergne) is in front of me this weekend, I won’t be happy with myself, so any pressure comes more from me and my expectations and getting as much out of myself as I can.”

Ricciardo admitted to being surprised at the media turnout to a visit to Visy Park, home to the local Carlton Australian Rules Football club, on Wednesday afternoon. The West Coast Eagles fan showed he’s retained most of his local football skills despite being based in Europe for most of the last five years, and has embraced the extra attention that comes with being one of 24 race drivers at the elite level of global motorsport.

“Everything that’s happening and all of the support that I’ve been getting is amazing,” he said.

“It all looks pretty intense, but I’m actually pretty relaxed. I’ve been (in Melbourne) since the weekend and had some time off to chill out. Once today and tomorrow are over, then I’ll be in the car and that’s where I’ll probably feel most at home. It’s been a good lead-up, so I’m feeling comfortable.”

With Toro Rosso predicted to be part of the tightest midfield fight in recent seasons, Ricciardo isn’t ruling out ‘doing a Webber’ and scoring points on his Australian debut.

“My hopes are high, and to be able to finish in the points is the goal I’m after,” he said.

“We’ll see where our performance is on Saturday in qualifying and try to have the best race we can, but I feel like anything is possible, even if qualifying doesn’t go to plan. Sunday will be a long race, and you know me – I’ll be staying positive until the end.”

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