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Ricciardo new hero for Oz F1 fans

2014-03-15 20:47

WHO SAID F1 2014 WAS GOING TO BE BORING! Daniel Ricciardo (inset) is the new Aussie hero - forget the cricket! He qualified second for Red Bull for the 2014 Oz F1 GP, right behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton. Image:AFP

IAN RANSOM

MELBOURNE, Australia - Daniel Ricciardo's promotion to a Red Bull hot seat promised a more pliable partner for Sebastian Vettel but the youngster's impressive qualifying for his home Formula 1 GP suggests the top dog for the previous four years has another gritty Aussie to deal with.

Tension between Vettel and his ex-team mate Mark Webber were a hallmark of Vettel's four championship years as the chisel-featured Australian railed at playing second fiddle in the Red Bull garage.

Vettel's ruthless pursuit of victory, occasionally at Webber's expense, endeared him to few Down Under and a certain schadenfreude was detectable in the cheers at Albert Park when Ricciardo finished second in qualifying on Saturday compared to Vettel's 13th.

'NICE TO BE UP THERE'

Ricciardo will line up with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on the front row for the 2014 Oz GP and will no doubt be the main headline in local newspapers after showing creditable composure on a track made greasy by rain showers.

Rather than saving his best until last, as did Hamilton, a determined Ricciardo set the pace from the outset, topping the time sheets early and re-claiming the front running with seconds to spare before being ultimately overhauled.

"It was nice to always be up there," Ricciardo told reporters, flashing his toothy trademark smile. "The engineer was on the radio saying 'pace is good, P1, P2, P3' and it was always that battle for pole so definitely a really nice first qualifying session with the team.

"We'll have to see what went wrong with Seb and his side of the garage but for now it's happy for me to be at least up here. It wasn't looking like this a few weeks ago. Pretty pleased right now."

Webber was a welcome presence at Albert Park throughout his F1 career and has remained so this week despite playing no part in the action.

However his failure to perform at home, despite collecting nine wins overseas, was a disappointment to local fans.

TALL ORDER

Ricciardo, who crossed from Red Bull's sister junior team Toro Rosso in the off-season, faces a tall order to become his country's first home F1 winner with Mercedes expected to be dominant on dry tyres but the front row was enough for Ricciardo to be the star attraction at the post-qualifying media conference.

Hamilton and third-placed Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg were largely ignored by local reporters. Ricciardo said: "Starting the season with a front row, it does a lot of good things for confidence."

"I'm really excited but I'm still staying calm and collected - tomorrow's what counts. There's no point having a party tonight... I'm sure I'll sleep well."

More heartening for Red Bull was Ricciardo's confidence that the RB10 car his team fought with during a dismal winter testing was starting to behave.

"In testing a lot of the time we were circulating to learn about reliability and to stop things from over-heating - we weren't really focused on what set-up we were running or any of that," he said. "I think all the aero guys are gathering more information and making the car a bit quicker each time we run.

"It's definitely a positive for us now. I hope the upward trend continues and we can start to hassle these (Mercedes) guys."
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