McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo is both excited and apprehensive ahead of his home race in Australia.
Formula 1 has been forced to miss each of the last two scheduled grand prix in Melbourne owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the 32-year-old had to stay away from his home country for almost 20 months, resulting in an “emotional” reunification with his family over the Christmas period.
His experiences at his home race have been mixed. He nearly grabbed pole in 2014 on his first Red Bull outing, and was disqualified having finished second to Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.
He was unable to take any meaningful part in the race in 2017 due to a reliability issue, before his front wing detached a few seconds after the start in 2019 in his first Renault appearance, ultimately forcing him to retire.
He sees 2014 as the biggest race he has had in Melbourne, owing to the vindication he felt after such a strong performance, beating four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
“From what everyone tells me, it feels like this year is going to be big – but for me, 2014 was always the race that felt biggest because I’d just joined Red Bull,” said Ricciardo.
“It was the first race of the season for me and I had a reigning four-time world champion (Sebastian Vettel) as my teammate. They were big stakes because people wanted to know ‘does this guy really have it?’ I wanted to show the team that it wasn’t too much for me, that I could really do this.
“But in terms of the build-up, because Australia hasn’t had a race in so long, they’ve re-done the track and it sounds like the crowd will be huge – 2022 has potential to be something pretty special.”
On the Beyond the Grid podcast in 2019, he described himself as “angry, bitter and frustrated” following his early retirement in Melbourne, adding that he had worked himself “to the ground” as he tried to please the fans and media who wanted his time.
He replied “yes” when asked by Tom Clarkson if would consider approaching future grand prix in Melbourne “differently.”
Therefore, the Australian affirms that his home race, depending on how the weekend goes, can be somewhat polarising.
“It’s extremes with Australia because everything is magnified,” he explained.
“When it’s great, it’s awesome … when it’s bad, it’s way more miserable. In 2019, my race was more or less over after five seconds and it wasn’t the most fun day I’ve had.”
Because of the fanfare he experiences when he races at home, he concedes to feeling anxious about being the focal point of the weekend.
“It can get to a point where there’s a level of anxiety because of the sheer scale of the attention,” he affirmed.
“It’s quite foreign to get that level of attention, and it can easily get in your head a little bit. I’ve not always done the best job with that, and sometimes it’s best to roll with the punches so you don’t create tension that stops you performing at your best.
“Do you give too much of yourself to things that are outside of driving, or do you shelter yourself away and almost focus too hard on driving and try to shut down everything else?
“You can lose energy trying to push back and stay under the radar, which you can’t anyway because it’s your home GP.
“Neither is a natural way to go racing, so there’s a compromise you have to accept, and just do the best you can with what you have.”
Ricciardo will be aiming for better fortunes in Melbourne than he has enjoyed in the opening two rounds of 2022, as he looks to get his first points on the board.