Coming into his home grand prix, making his first competitive start for Toro Rosso and facing the world's TV cameras, you'd expect Daniel Ricciardo to be a bit nervous, but the young Aussie is coming up all smiles...
'There’s not long to go now until we fire up the engines to get the new Formula One season properly going and, while it sounds strange to say it, I’m still pretty relaxed about it. I probably shouldn’t be as this is my first race with Toro Rosso and of course it’s my home race, which is quite special, but I really am enjoying the whole build up.
Mark Webber told me about the demands made on you this weekend as an Australian driver, and while it’s true that the schedule has been pretty intense, I think I’m quite relaxed about how it’s all gone. That may be down to arriving here last week and having a few days to chill out but so far I’ve just enjoyed all the things that have been going on.
On Wednesday I went to see some graffiti of the car that had been done by a Melbourne artist called Reka, which was pretty cool. He’d painted the STR7 on a wall and then added in my race number while I was there, which was great. The afternoon was bit busier but good fun as well. I had an appearance at Carlton Football Club with a couple of their players, Matthew Kreuzer and Michael Jamison.
Like most Australians, I grew up watching AFL, though I have to confess that being from Perth I’m a West Coast Eagles fan, so it was great to have a kickabout with the guys at the Carlton ground, Visy Park.
Quite a lot of media turned up for it as well, which is something new for me, and there were a lot of interviews to get through but I know it’s because I’m the local guy and I guess it will all settle down by the time we get to Malaysia next week.
All those promotional events and interviews are now pretty much done with though and it’s almost time to go climb in the cockpit and go racing – which, as any driver will tell you, is the place we really feel most comfortable.
I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Toro Rosso. Testing went well for us, especially the last two days we had in Barcelona. I think I piled on about 230 laps on those two days, which is huge.
'The dream has come true and I’m about to head into my first home grand prix'
We learned a lot about the car and figured out some things we can move forward with. I think the general balance of the car is good, it’s very competitive and this year it looks very close with all the teams. We just have to make sure we get the most out of it and with me and Jean-Eric at the wheel, I hope we can achieve that.
I’ve raced against Jean-Eric for a few years now and I know he’s quick and he’s capable. That’s why he’s in F1.
I think that we’ll push each other hard and that’s important for the team. Having drivers who are pushing for the maximum and really squeezing every last drop out of the car trying to beat each other is what brings a team forward.
In terms of targets, what we’re really looking for is to finish in front of the Saubers and Force Indias, teams like that. I don’t think that’s asking too much either. If we manage to stay in front of them, and Williams, in these first few races then we’ll have made a good start.
As for my personal targets, well, I’d love to get a podium at some point or a win, but those are maybe unreal expectations at this point. All I can really do is push hard and try to get the maximum out of the car. If I do that the points will hopefully come.
First off though, it’s the Australian Grand Prix and I have to say I’m immensely proud to be one of two Aussies on the grid for the first time. I remember watching Mark make his debut here 10 years ago and how exciting that was. I watched the race from the grandstand on the main pit straight and the whole crowd was behind him. We couldn’t believe it, seeing him in a Minardi and racing for fifth on the last lap. I think he was holding off Mika Salo. There was a huge sense of elation when he crossed the line; everyone was so pumped. It was huge.
'I’m immensely proud to be one of two Aussies on the grid for the first time'
If you’d have told me then that 10 years later I’d be lining up on the Formula One grid I’d have said you were dreaming. It’s crazy. As much as I wanted to be an F1 driver as a young kid I never thought it would be possible or that I might have the will to do it to this level. Perth is a small enough place and motorsport is very much in Europe, at least F1 is. Also, weirdly, as a kid I didn’t like travelling. I was totally happy in Australia. But it all turned around when I was 14 or 15. Motor racing became the thing and everything just seemed to click in my head.
Now the dream has come true and I’m about to head into my first home grand prix. Obviously there’s a bit of pressure in that but to be honest I think most of it comes from within. I want to get the best out of myself and out of the car and that’s what I’ve got to aim for.
I’ve only raced in F1 11 times before but I’m not treating this as a learning year. I’ve got to step up and do as good as I can – starting now.'
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