For two years Daniel Ricciardo took the feel-good factor at Albert Park to new levels as a Toro Rosso driver. In 2014 the 24-year-old cool dude from Western Australia lifted the roof right off the place when he finished second in his first appearance for Toro Rosso’s grown-up sister team, Red Bull Racing.
Fans at the 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix and the huge global audience following events on television enjoyed the happiest F1 podium they had seen in years as Ricciardo joined race winner Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and McLaren’s own F1 fledgling Kevin Magnussen in celebrating the first race of Grand Prix racing’s brave new era.
Three of the most acceptable faces of F1’s newer generation laughed and joked together as they laid hands on the beautiful Australian Grand Prix trophies. And then the music stopped.
Aussie fans reacted with dismay when, six hours later, a revised race result was issued by the sport’s governing body. Alongside Ricciardo’s name, sitting proudly in second place, were the letters ‘EX’. The new local hero had been EX-cluded from the race results, not for anything he had done wrong, but for an alleged technical infringement committed by his RB10 racer.
Not only does the new-look F1 mandate a maximum amount of fuel each car may use per Grand Prix race, it also controls the rate at which that fuel may flow into the car’s turbo-charged V6 engine. So managing your fuel consumption is one of the keys to unlocking your race car’s strictly limited potential.
To race fans around the world it’s the ultimate paradox: guys who just want to get out there and race being told they can’t put the pedal to the metal and do what they all do best.
Red Bull will appeal against the decision, which promoted Magnussen to second place on debut and elevated his McLaren teammate Jenson Button to the podium alongside him.
But whatever the outcome those who were there, in person or in spirit, know exactly what Daniel Ricciardo achieved on Sunday March 16, 2014.
He was the first Australian to stand on the podium in a home race history that reached the 30-year landmark last weekend. He started from the front row for the first time; he claimed the finest result of his 51-race F1 career; he brought his own trademark smile to the faces of everyone who saw it.
Ricciardo’s weekend also book-marked the 19-year history of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in a curious way.
Twelve years ago, in his first-ever F1 appearance, Mark Webber lifted Australian spirits with a fifth place for Minardi – a car that wasn’t meant to be up there – and it felt like a win. Webber wasn’t on the podium – and then he was, unofficially, as the home crowd clapped and cheered until he appeared.
In 2014 Dan Ricciardo took over Webber’s mantle with second place in a Red Bull that was widely predicted not to last the distance. He was on the podium – and then, officially, he wasn’t. Try telling that to the thousands who sang his name at Albert Park last Sunday.
The official results says Dan Ricciardo is an ‘EX’ podium-finisher for the moment. Fans who don’t give a hoot for technicalities may be confused by what’s gone on. But let’s get one thing clear: anyone who knows motor racing knows Dan Ricciardo is already an F1 star.