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The start of something big?

Daniel Ricciardo was happy but exhausted after his maiden outing at an Australian Grand Prix weekend – and the young Aussie can’t wait for his next chance

by Matthew Clayton

Late on a windy and cold evening at Albert Park, Daniel Ricciardo was emotionally spent – but still sporting his trademark wide grin.

Friday had been a whirlwind day.

After taking part in the first practice session of the Qantas Australian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso, the 21-year-old West Australian fulfilled a dream with his first drive in a Grand Prix car at a race weekend.

“It was a big buzz for me to go out there and get on track with 23 other drivers,” Ricciardo said.

“Melbourne, Albert Park, my first time here … there were a lot of new factors for me. Just pulling out of the pits and leaving the box was a big moment. It’s a little hurdle that I’ve now got over.

“I had the butterflies that I had the first time I ever drove the car. That was just the atmosphere and the situation, and I think next time I’ll be more acclimatised with the environment.”

Ricciardo will take part in every Friday practice session for Toro Rosso this season, but this weekend was the first time he’d ever been around the 5.303km Albert Park layout in any car. A quick walk around the track ahead of the race weekend gave him a taste of what to expect, and he now has a greater appreciation for the challenges the circuit offers.

“It’s definitely bumpier than I expected,” Ricciardo said of his first impressions.

“Turns 11 and 12 are awesome. I love a bit of high speed in corners, so that was fun. The whole track is actually very high speed for a street circuit.

“Turn 14 was the other one that got my attention. It’s fifth gear, and when the rubber is down it’s not even a corner where you brake – it’s just a lift (of the throttle). Serious stuff!

“The track has got awesome flow. It’s a shame I didn’t get more laps on it, but hopefully next year I’ll get a full weekend and then get a real feel for the circuit.”

While Ricciardo is thought by many paddock insiders to be a strong chance of a permanent race seat in 2012, the young man himself isn’t about to take anything for granted.

It was just four years ago that Ricciardo went to Italy to compete in Formula Renault for the first time, and while he’s almost reached the top of his Red Bull-back career path in the few years since, he’s well aware of the work still ahead of him.

“It’s still a dream, but it’s safe to say that it’s a bit more than that now,” he said of a spot on the 2012 grid.

“It’s possible, which is a good word. Guaranteed? Nothing’s ever guaranteed at the pinnacle of any sport. One or two bad races or bad events, and you’re looking at a few negatives.”

While his F1 commitments are over for the weekend, Ricciardo will still be on track today and tomorrow in the Red Bull Race Off, where he and former F1 driver David Coulthard, V8 Supercar star Rick Kelly and motorbike stuntman Robbie Maddison will battle in identically-prepared Renault Meganes. Ricciardo is looking forward to some more laps of the Melbourne layout – but laughed when asked how he’ll approach this afternoon’s five-lap race.

“After being in the F1 car, I’m a bit worried about my braking markers in the Megane,” he grinned.

“I’m not sure how it’ll go, but I’ll be braking a bit later than the others, I think. I might make sure one of them is in front of me in case I need to really slow down …”

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