For most Australian connoisseurs of sport, the Formula 1 circuit demands our attention once a year, when the season kicks off in our own backyard.
But as 24-year old West Australian Daniel Ricciardo stepped upon the podium as the sun set over Melbourne’s Albert Park on Sunday, there was suddenly a big reason to follow the twists and turns of Formula 1 in 2014.
It was almost too good to be true for the Red Bull debutant and this proved to be the case merely hours after the Mumm had dried from Ricciardo’s racing suit.
His team was dragged before the race stewards and was accused of abusing new fuel consumption laws that were brought in before the Australian Grand Prix.
Mixed emotions but all in all a great wkend & nothings taking this feeling away from me. Thanks for all the support! pic.twitter.com/kFIOgeT7wc
— Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) March 17, 2014
In a sport that, by principle, rewards its competitors for going as fast as they can, it was unfortunate for Australia’s newest hero to be stripped of his second place finish for ignoring pre-race directions from FIA officials, as well as a mid-race warning.
He is the man with a smile so wide that it looks as though he should be selling used cars and not driving the world’s fastest ones. But unfortunately Ricciardo’s disqualification was an ending that would have had even him feeling glum.
With Australia’s only contender for the last decade, Mark Webber, watching on track-side, it was proven by Red Bull’s new Aussie No.2 driver that he will be as much of a headache for his rivals this season as his predecessor.
Ricciardo’s second place finish, whether influenced by his “consistent exceeding of the maximum fuel flow of 100kg per hour” or not, sets up an exciting year.
Ricciardo’s maiden drive with Red Bull proved there is more reason to follow the Formula 1 this year than to just hope everybody’s least favourite four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel loses.
“It is no fault of Daniel. I don’t believe it is the fault of the team. I believe we have been compliant to the rules,” said Red Bull Racing director Christian Horner after his team announced they would appeal the decision.
Interestingly, former Formula 1 Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart told 3AW on Monday that Red Bull’s tactics gave the car no advantage and an appeal would confirm this.
Extra fuel consumption gives the car a burst of speed but Ricciardo’s lap times were consistent throughout the race, Stoddart claimed.
The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne was to be as much a learning experience for those fans new to motorsport’s fastest variety as it was for the engineers and crews in pit lane, with new regulations from the governing body manipulating the way the cars are built and perform.
“Two or three weeks ago I would have bet pretty much everything I have that we would not be standing up here,” Ricciardo said.
“Full credit to the team for an unbelievable turnaround. I don’t understand how they did it, but they did, so thank you guys.”
Winter testing left many teams in the lurch as to whether their new beasts were likely to run out of fuel or not reach the chequered flag at all, let alone reach it with any sort of haste.
Perhaps the predicament Ricciardo and his team now find themselves in is due to this lack of knowledge and a desire to push the boundaries.
“We’ve never done a race distance up until today, so we didn’t really have much confidence we’d see a chequered flag, let alone see it in a podium position,” Ricciardo said.
Unfortunately for two of the world’s fastest drivers, British pole position holder Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo’s teammate Vettel, their worst nightmares came to fruition.
Hamilton began in first place on the grid after Saturday’s tense qualifying stage, before being forced to withdraw after only a few laps.
Vettel retired just a few laps later with both citing a lack of power in the car, providing Ricciardo with a clearer path to becoming the first Australian since Webber to earn a podium finish before the investigation.
But Sunday’s Grand Prix deserves to be remembered for those who did see out the race and not for those who failed to do so.
With fifty weekends of Formula 1 racing under his belt already and a car that has proven it can go the distance, Ricciardo has every chance to gain more podium finishes this year and strive for a maiden win.
“It’s a bit surreal still, but I’m sure tomorrow it will all sink in,” Ricciardo said before his disqualification.
For Australian F1 fans, the sooner Red Bull’s smiling Sandgroper gets used to that feeling, the better.
Justin Falconer is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student studying at La Trobe University. Follow his Twitter feed: @jfalconer6.