Daniel Ricciardo 'really excited' by Melbourne frontrow but downplays beating Vettel
Red Bull debut hailed as "great, great performance" by Horner
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 15/03/14 9:54am
With Red Bull already displaying far stronger than expected pace in practice after a winter of torrid unreliability with the new RB10, Ricciardo used his own encouraging early form at Albert Park - the 24-year-old outpaced Vettel in two of the three sessions - as a springboard to even greater feats in qualifying, particularly once the rain started to fall.
While Vettel struggled for pace and dropped out in Q2, Ricciardo emerged as a serious pole contender alongside the hitherto dominant Mercedes' and his final lap had briefly lifted him into provisional top spot, only for Lewis Hamilton to snatch it away by lapping three tenths quicker.
Still, second place on the grid represented a stunning result for a car that some had predicted might not even get out of Q1 this weekend, and a driver for whom a solitary fifth place with Toro Rosso had previously been his qualifying high.
Although shying away from discussing the implications of beating Vettel, F1's dominant driver of the last four years, at the first attempt, Ricciardo did acknowledge that Saturday had proved a big early positive for his Red Bull career.
"Not looking at him, I'm sure he had some problems of some sort today, but just for me to start the season with a frontrow does a lot of good things for the confidence," he said.
"Obviously it's just the start; I have to race tomorrow and try and finish up the front of the order and then see how the season progresses.
"The last couple of days have been really positive for us."
With Ricciardo's countryman and Red Bull predecessor Mark Webber never having bettered second on the Melbourne grid in his 12-year F1 career, or finishing on the podium in the race, the deafening roar generated by the Albert Park crowd when Ricciardo posted his final Q3 lap underlined the locals' support for their new hero.
The Perth-born driver himself is now hoping he can deliver for what is likely to be an expectant crowd on Sunday.
"Really excited but at the same time still staying calm and collected because tomorrow's what counts. There's no point having a party tonight - hopefully tomorrow!" he declared.
"But speaking solely of today it's been a really good day for us. The car was pretty good to drive in the wet. At the start of the year we were all fearing how difficult these new animals would be in wet conditions, it was always a bit of hadful, but at the same time it was quite nice behind the wheel. I heard all the crowd on the cool-down lap. All I can say is I hope I can do that tomorrow."
As well as receiving the acclaim of the crowd, Ricciardo's efforts were lauded by his new team boss Christian Horner.
"What a debut from Daniel, it was a great, great performance. We got the timing just right to go onto the inters and to be within a tenth of a Mercedes, we'd have never expected that before qualy," the Red Bull Team Principal told Sky Sports F1.
"All credit to him. He was very cool and made the right call on the tyres at the right time. He's been quick in all the sessions.
"To have a car on the front-row at the first race, the bookies would never have expected that."
Ricciardo's hopes of becoming the first Australian to finish on the podium may well now rest on whether the reliability problems that dogged Red Bull's pre-season programme resurface over the longer distance.
With a 20-lap stint the longest the World Champions managed in Bahrain, and teams having now to adhere to a 100kg fuel limit for the first time in races, Ricciardo suggested: "Fuel is probably a question mark for a lot of teams. We still haven't done a race distance yet so I think it's probably going to be one of those things that we understand each lap we do in the race."
And quizzed by a local journalist whether his getaways from the grid - something Webber infamously struggled with throughout his Red Bull career - Ricciardo replied: "A bit up and down last year. Let's see how we go tomorrow..."
The Red Bull head-to-head this weekend
Practice One: Ricciardo 5th; Vettel 7th.
Practice Two: Vettel 4th, Ricciardo 6th.
Practice Three: Ricciardo 5th; Vettel 12th.
Qualy One: Ricciardo 1st; Vettel 8th.
Qualy Two: Ricciardo 2nd, Vettel 13th.
Grid: Ricciardo 2nd, Vettel 12th.