Anticipation was high ahead of Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull Racing debut at the Australian Grand Prix on 5 March 2014.
The Australian floated inside the top five during Friday and Saturday’s free practice sessions before almost salvaging a phenomenal dream pole position in front of the Melbourne faithful during changeable conditions at Albert Park. The 24-year-old was pipped in the final seconds of qualifying by Lewis Hamilton, who claimed Mercedes’ first of many pole positions in their dominant hybrid power era.
The 2014 edition of the race was welcomed with new technical regulations controversially changing from the loud V8 engines to much quieter, deeper turbo-charged V6 power units featuring hybrid power units. The new era of Formula 1® was heading into the unknown as teams were blinded as to how their first weekend would fold out in Melbourne.
Ricciardo started Sunday’s race from a tantalising second place on the grid, attempting to become the first Australian driver to win their home race in Formula 1® history.
Off the start line, Hamilton jumped away slowly, dropping to third position by the first corner. But Ricciardo struggled to gain the lead as Nico Rosberg stormed by in the second Mercedes from third on the grid. It was revealed Hamilton had lost a cylinder during the start procedure as he continued to fall down the pecking order throughout the opening laps. The Briton would eventually be forced into retirement.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel was also led into retirement – much to the delight of many Australian fans who still begrudged the ‘Multi 21’ team orders incident between Vettel and Mark Webber at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. The German had power unit issues in Melbourne, returning to the garage on Lap 3.
Rosberg rapidly created a strong lead under the steam of the dominant Mercedes power unit. A brief Safety Car intervention cut his lead, though he quickly restored the gap after the restart.
Ricciardo sat tight in second position having to hold off Kevin Magnussen on his Formula 1® debut in the Mercedes-powered McLaren late into the race. Ricciardo pushed when it mattered, creating a one-second buffer to the Dane and ultimately crossing the line in second position – a hefty 24 seconds behind Rosberg.
Ricciardo’s podium appearance sent the Albert Park crowd into a frenzy, the Aussie joined by countryman and 1980 F1® world champion Alan Jones on rostrum for the traditional celebration.
But joy turned to despair later on Sunday evening, stewards discovering Ricciardo’s car had exceeded the maximum allowed fuel flow limit during the race. The rule – new for 2014 – meant Ricciardo was excluded from the final result, stripping the Australian of his podium finish and deducting his championship points.
Ricciardo expressed his disappointment the next day, while Red Bull Racing challenged the matter but eventually lost. Regardless of the outcome, the day will be remembered by many fans as another magic Melbourne moment, as the countdown continues until the season-opening Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2019 on 14-17 March.