Around on dirt tracks, at speedways and kids’ karting meets, an army of volunteers keeps the beating heart of n motor sport alive. In Melbourne, in March they make their way to Albert Park to see the result of their handiwork and hope – not without good reason – that one of their own can make it to the top step of the sport’s pinnacle.
Daniel Ricciardo – like Mark Webber before him – is one of those dreamers. And there’s always next year.
The Melbourne Grand Prix is fast becoming one that demands enormous reserves of energy and patience from the affable Ricciardo and yet delivers nothing but black eyes.
In his first year at Red Bull in 2014 Ricciardo became the first n to stand on a home Grand Prix podium since the world championship returned to this country in 1985. Within hours of that second-place triumph he was disqualified because of a fuel irregularity. In 2015, his Renault engine was non-competitive but he eked out sixth place. Last year’s fourth was deemed a stepping stone.
Ricciardo had every hope of snaring a top five start in Sunday’s race, but when he overcooked a corner in the final qualifying session and rear-ended the wall on Saturday he suddenly faced a 10th place starting position. That became 15th place after regulations around gear box changes saw the n take a further penalty.
On the installation lap Ricciardo’s car got stuck in sixth gear and suddenly the best chance he had of starting to race was from pit lane if his team could get it back to the garage and going in time before the race started. The Red Bull finally chugged to life two laps into the race and Ricciardo was sent out track with team radio offering a bright take on his afternoon. “Go on Daniel, get stuck in and have fun.”
By lap 29 it was all over. This time a fuel pressure issue stopping him dead on Lakeside drive behind the grandstand where so many dejected South Melbourne fans emptied onto the street in sporting sob stories past.
By the time he trudged back to the paddock, even Ricciardo’s sunny side was slipping ever so slightly
“On the plus side I’m getting out of here. It’s been a long week,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong it’s been fun I just feel bad for everyone, the fans … but it just kind of snowballed I guess from yesterday.”
Asked if he was disappointed he replied: “My throat hurts at the moment so I’ll let you figure that one out … I’ll be right I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel good. It’s been a long week, you know obviously I feel like crap, but obviously for the fans and everything it is not how we would have liked the opener to go.
“They cheered when I stopped on the warm-up lap and when I stopped now during the race, they still cheered and I heard them still showing a lot of support. That makes me stand here now feeling a lot better about myself than if I didn’t have that.”
And then the smile returned. “I’ve got a contract next year as well so I’m definitely back once more and hopefully that goes better.”