(Australian Associated Press)
No local has made it on to the Australian Grand Prix podium since it became a world championship round in 1985.
And Daniel Ricciardo can’t see that hoodoo ending in Melbourne this weekend.
The Australian Formula 1 star claimed he was happy with his shock decision to end a five-year stint at Red Bull to sign with Renault, saying the new team “feels right”.
But Ricciardo warned fans not to expect his trademark grin on the Albert Park podium at the F1 season opener.
“People ask me ‘are you going to win this weekend?’,” Ricciardo said ahead of his Renault debut.
“Obviously I want to say yes because I believe in my heart that I have got what it takes to win.
“But I have also got to be realistic and that is not necessarily the likely scenario.
“I just have to be a bit more measured with my responses and get people to understand the reality of this at the moment.
“But my objective is to push the car as far up the grid as it can go.”
Renault finished the 2018 constructors’ championship in fourth as the “best of the rest” behind heavyweights Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Ricciardo admitted the pecking order did not look like changing any time soon, saying it would take time for Renault to threaten the “big three” in 2019.
“I will never be fully content until we are winning and that will take some time,” he said.
“The likelihood of starting on the front row at least in the short term is slim.
“In Melbourne, we will have an idea if we are thereabouts or completely lost.”
However, the Australian star said the uncertainty would not change his attacking mindset on the Albert Park track.
In fact, he believed it would only stoke it.
“The fact that there will be more cars starting in front of me is probably high but that will only help me in this position,” he said.
“There is no reason for me to hold back. It’s even more important for me to have that (attacking) character on track and to try and stay relevant and push the team towards the front.”
Ricciardo is at least getting along with his new teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
One of the main reasons for walking away from Red Bull was his falling out with co-driver Max Verstappen, highlighted by their ugly crash at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“On a personal level, I get on with Nico. For sure we will be competitive but we both know our main objective is to work together to get Renault to the front in a short time frame,” Ricciardo said.
Fans flock to Australian GP for Ricciardo
Australian Grand Prix chief Andrew Westacott says the season-opening race is on track to eclipse last year’s attendance figures, with interest in local hero Daniel Ricciardo still high.
Westacott is confident the overall crowd figure for the four-day event at the Albert Park circuit will exceed 300,000 people, with Ricciardo still a huge drawcard despite his well-publicised switch from Red Bull to Renault.
“I reckon he is capable of gunning for a podium … no one knows exactly how they’re all going to perform, Renault will have a good package and they’ve gone well here before,” Westacott said at the Formula 1 season launch at Melbourne’s Federation Square on Wednesday.
Ricciardo to show true colours for Renault
The only complaint Daniel Ricciardo has about his lucrative Renault move is that the team’s yellow and black colours remind him of AFL club Richmond.
But it’s a minor quibble for the devout West Coast fan compared to the dramas he left behind at Formula 1 rivals Red Bull.
Perth-born Ricciardo said donning the new colours for the first time since his shock exit from Red Bull “feels right” ahead of his Renault debut at this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Even after he was reminded that it may give the wrong idea to Tigers fans in AFL-made Melbourne.
“I have worn a navy blue race suit for Red Bull since 2008, since I was a junior,” he said.
“But it (Renault suit) doesn’t feel strange, weird or awkward – it feels right.”
Ricciardo didn’t change his tune even when told by reporters Renault’s colour scheme shared that of Richmond – not his beloved Eagles.
“It actually got brought up in testing two weeks ago (in Spain) and up until that time it just had not even clicked,” Ricciardo laughed.
“But if I see some Richmond jerseys around Albert Park this weekend I will consider them friends.”
Ricciardo has little else to complain about since ditching Red Bull after falling out with co-driver Max Verstappen.
The Australian star didn’t bag his former team but the full extent of the tension at Red Bull last year has been brought to light by the recently released Netflix documentary “Formula 1: Drive To Survive”.
Ricciardo is clearly frustrated in the film with his treatment by Red Bull, believing he is playing second fiddle to Verstappen.
It came to a head when the pair crashed at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and Ricciardo was roasted by team advisor Helmut Marko then asked to apologise to the Red Bull outfit despite the Australian believing he was not in the wrong.
Team boss Christian Horner didn’t help when he says in the film that Ricciardo wanted to leave Red Bull because he was “running from a fight” with Verstappen.
But it appears there is no bad blood at Renault for Ricciardo.
Snapping up a deal reportedly worth $A49 million a year – almost triple what he earned at Red Bull – no doubt helped.
Ricciardo refused to take a swipe at Red Bull but admitted he wouldn’t be taking any particular interest in their progress this year.
“I got asked at testing ‘how much will you be watching Red Bull’ but honestly no more than I am watching every other team,” he said.