Month: March 2017

Miller Time: A solid start

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about a weekend of wild weather with a happy ending in Qatar.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

That was a seriously weird weekend, a weird weekend with a good ending. I’ve never seen it rain much in Qatar in all the years I’ve been coming here, and this week it seemed like it never stopped. We got the race in – just – so to finish eighth, score eight points and get the season off to a massively positive start was as good as I could have hoped for.

It was a better result than what we’d thought, for sure, because things didn’t start all that well when I had a crash in the first practice and shook myself up a bit. After that it was pretty unusual with the practices being affected by the wind and the weather, and then we lost qualifying completely with the rain. It was one of those weekends where things could have easily gone the other way for me, so to start the season off on the right foot is really nice.

The race was delayed by about 45 minutes on Sunday in the end, and that was 100 per cent the right call. We went out for a sighting lap and we were all OK until we got to Turn 14, and then heaps of us had to run wide because the track was wet, you probably saw us all sit up and raise our arms. Turn 16 was wet as well, and there was just no way you could race with a slick on that surface, or put wets on because the other 95 per cent of the track was completely dry. The double sighting lap we did later on to check things out was the right move because we could push through there to see if it had dried properly. It made things later and the wait was frustrating for everyone, but delaying it was the best call. The amazing part about it was that we somehow got 40 minutes in where it didn’t rain to get the race done. Not like we’ve had that happen much in Qatar this year.

Some of the riders made a last-minute switch to soft tyres – maybe they were thinking the race might get shortened if it rained again, or maybe because they felt the later start would make the track cooler and you could run them for 20 laps. It wasn’t even a consideration for us to be honest. We did a lot of laps on the soft in practice, and they just didn’t last for me or give me the feeling that I wanted.

I made a really good start and got up to 10th on the first lap from 16th, and then spent most of the race pretty comfortably inside the top 10. I ended up in a bit of a tussle with Jonas (Folger) on the last lap – he’d qualified well but started badly and was out of position, and I could tell he was going to come up to me at some stage because he’d been quick all weekend. I knew that they were coming, and Aleix Espargaro got past me, but I was right there with Scott (Redding) until later in the race when my arm got a bit tight in the last few laps.

The transfer from being on the brakes to full gas wasn’t the best, so I had to nurse the arm home a bit. I was trying to play with the numbers working out what pace I could run at the end there and if I had some in reserve to push if I needed to, so it was good that it all worked out and I didn’t drop that extra point on the last lap. I spent most of the second half of the race in eighth so it was good to keep it, and good that I had my best MotoGP race here in the three years I’ve been in it. Even though I wasn’t feeling the best in those last laps, I was able to push through.

Being from Townsville, I’m pretty on top of what a lot of rain looks like, so this week maybe wasn’t as weird for me as it was for some of the other guys – saying that, you just don’t expect that to happen in the desert day after day. We got a bit lucky too as it absolutely pissed down again as soon as the race finished! By the time I was back in the garage and the guys were on the podium, it was pouring again.

It’ll be good to get home for a bit before we head to Argentina for the next one. The fans there are really passionate and I like the track, and I should have had a good result there last time but made a big mistake. We’ve got some good points now after a strong pre-season, so we’ll be confident of making up for that this time. Talk to you from there.

Cheers,
Jack

What happened at the Australian Grand Prix?

Driver by driver, team by team – here’s who did what and how in Melbourne.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 2nd. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd.

Was Australia a race Ferrari won, or one Mercedes lost? Hamilton’s lap 17 pit stop to discard his ultrasoft Pirelli tyres seemed a touch premature, particularly given the more durable rubber this year made Albert Park a nailed-on one-stop race. By the time Vettel pitted six laps later after inheriting the lead, Hamilton was stuck behind Verstappen’s yet-to-pit Red Bull, and had no answer for the German’s pace afterwards as he was unable to convert a record-equalling sixth Australian pole into victory. Bottas started and finished third on a very solid first weekend for his new employers, and was just 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton at the finish. Mercedes has faced little competition in recent times, and perhaps its strategic sharpness left something to be desired after winning 19 of the 21 Grands Prix a year ago.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 10th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, finished 5th.

A horrible Saturday for Ricciardo turned into a nightmare Sunday, as he retired from a race for the first time since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix. A rare shunt in qualifying – just his third crash in three seasons – saw him condemned to a 10th-place start, which became 15th thanks to a five-place grid penalty for a replacement gearbox. It was a grid he never made, his RB13 breaking down on the formation lap, and he eventually retired from last place at half-distance when he did eventually get going, a sour end to a weekend where he was the centre of attention. Verstappen finished where he started, but a deficit of 1.2 seconds to Hamilton in qualifying and finishing half a minute behind Vettel means last year’s constructors’ championship runner-up has plenty of work to do before round two in China.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 4th.

The F1 world converged on Melbourne wanting to know if Ferrari’s pre-season pace was legit, casting a cynical eye towards the Scuderia after its winter testing pace seemed to evaporate in previous years when the pre-season phoney war came to a close. Not this time, though: Vettel was in Hamilton’s shadow in qualifying, and took out his second Australian GP 24 hours later for Ferrari’s first victory since Singapore 2015. That was the good, and then there was Raikkonen; the Finn qualified half a second slower than his teammate and finished 22 seconds behind a cruising Vettel at the finish, making you wonder once again what Ferrari could achieve with a swifter driver in the sister car.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 7th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 14th, finished 10th.

Force India arrived in Melbourne with a striking new pink livery, and while it was hard to tell their drivers apart on track thanks to radical helmet revisions for both Perez and Ocon, both drivers finished inside the top 10 on race day to give the team seven valuable points after both cars failed to make Q3. Perez finished in Australia for the third time in the past four years, while for Ocon, who spent last year toiling for the backmarker Manor team, 10th was enough for his maiden world championship point.

Williams
Felipe Massa: qualified 7th, finished 6th. Lance Stroll: qualified 19th, did not finish.

Massa’s “retirement” – he came back to the team after Bottas moved to Mercedes over the off-season – didn’t interrupt his rhythm as the veteran Brazilian was the ‘best of the rest’ for much of the weekend behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, finishing as the final car on the lead lap, albeit 83 seconds behind Vettel. Stroll’s rookie race weekend started quietly before he hit the wall in third practice, necessitating a gearbox change and a mad rush for the team to get him on track for qualifying, while his race ended after lap 40 after a trip down the escape road at Turn 13.

McLaren
Fernando Alonso: qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 18th, finished 13th.

McLaren came to Australia after a wretched pre-season, where the car was both slow and unreliable, and had low hopes for the first race of the season. Still, it was surprising to hear Alonso, a two-time world champion, describe his race as “probably the best of my life” as he ran in the back-end of the points for much of it before his suspension failed on lap 50 of 57. Vandoorne, who turned 25 on race day, had to drive blind for much of the race with a malfunctioning dashboard, and was the last classified finisher in his second Grand Prix.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 9th, finished 9th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 8th, finished 8th.

The best-looking livery in F1 – to our eyes anyway – delivered on track as well, with both Toro Rosso tyros finishing in the points. Sainz was marginally the quicker of the two in qualifying – by 0.025secs – and made it three points finishes in Australia in as many years as he finished right in Perez’s shadow for seventh. Kvyat at least made the start – his Red Bull failed on the formation lap at Albert Park the past two years – and made his opening set of ultrasoft tyres last a whopping 34 laps in what was a solid weekend for Red Bull’s ‘B’ team.

Haas
Romain Grosjean: qualified 6th, did not finish. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 17th, did not finish.

Grosjean was arguably the mid-grid star of the weekend before Sunday, the fast Frenchman finishing inside the top eight in every session before the race. The American team had high hopes of Grosjean reprising his sixth-place finish in Melbourne a year ago, but a water leak after 13 laps saw him become the race’s first retirement. Magnussen’s weekend was less positive, the Dane struggling to get Turn 12 right in qualifying and then clattering into Sauber’s Ericsson on lap one of the race, a front suspension failure eventually seeing him retire 11 laps from home.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 20th, did not finish. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 12th, finished 11th.

The high point of Palmer’s trip to Australia came when the official event program referred to him as a three-time world champion; back in the real world, the second-year Brit smashed his RS17 into the wall at the last corner in second practice, bemoaned a lack of grip in qualifying despite Hulkenberg suffering no such problems, and then retired early in the race with brake issues. Hulkenberg had more to happy about on his first weekend with the team until race day, where he initially lined up in the wrong grid spot to start the race, and then finished a second outside of the points when he was pipped at the post by Ocon.

Sauber
Antonio Giovinazzi: qualified 16th, finished 12th. Marcus Ericsson: qualified 15th, did not finish.

A strange weekend for Sauber, with regular driver Pascal Wehrlein pulling out of the event on Saturday morning citing fitness concerns, his pre-season compromised by an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami that left him with a back injury. Ferrari test driver Giovinazzi was drafted in and acquitted himself very well for a man who had never driven the Albert Park layout until Saturday, finishing just behind teammate Ericsson in qualifying and ending Sunday in 12th place after completing a Grand Prix distance for the first time. Ericsson’s event was more eventful, the Swede spinning into the Turn 6 gravel in Friday practice before his race was ruined after the clash with Magnussen in the opening corners.

Ricciardo’s race over before it started

THIS STORY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER.

Disappointment in Melbourne is nothing new for Daniel Ricciardo; what should have been the Red Bull racer’s finest hour, a second place on his debut for the team at the Australian Grand Prix in 2014, turned to dust when his first career podium was taken away, his car disqualified for a breach of the technical regulations.

Ricciardo at least got to stand on the podium that day, soaking up the adulation of his home fans before learning of his exclusion on a lonely drive back to his city hotel that night. On Sunday at Albert Park, Ricciardo’s quest to become the first Australian to stand – legitimately – on his home podium was over before it started.

A rare crash in qualifying on Saturday left Ricciardo in 10th place on the grid, a subsequent five-place grid penalty for the team changing his damaged gearbox overnight adding salt to his wounds.

But if he thought that was bad, worse was to come on Sunday when his car ground to a halt in sixth gear with an electrical sensor failure as he made his way to the starting grid on the formation lap. The Australian sat in disbelief in his car on the run to Turn 13, his team frantically trying to come up with a solution from the garage to get his RB13 machine started. The car was brought back into pit lane, feverishly worked on while the other 19 cars in the field took the start, and was released into the fray with Ricciardo two laps down and plumb last.

Ricciardo’s only chance of sneaking into the top 10 points-paying positions rested on a safety car or heavy attrition for his rivals; such was his luck on Sunday that the former never materialised, and of the seven cars not running at the finish, his was one, an engine failure seeing him park up at Turn 3 on lap 29.

If Ricciardo shunts are uncommon – his crash in qualifying on Saturday was just his third in three seasons, none of which have come in a race – non-finishes by the Australian are as much of a rarity. Ricciardo’s third place in last year’s world championship was achieved partly through his speed and race craft, and partly by his unerring consistency, the Australian one of just two drivers to finish all 21 Grands Prix, 20 of them inside the top 10.

Sunday’s non-finish was his first since the 2015 Russian Grand Prix – a span of 26 races – and continued his wretched luck at home. Of the circuits that have featured in every season of his six-year career to date, only Japan and Brazil have produced fewer points, and more heartache.

“The car just switched off, it was instant,” a despondent Ricciardo said afterwards. “There was nothing, no procedure I could do to stay out there. I was lapping a few laps down, but I was getting some information, which was better than nothing. The more laps we get with this car, the more we’re learning. It was still valuable track time.

“It just snowballed from yesterday. The five-place grid penalty sounded bad enough, but then we had other issues. I feel like crap, but I feel for the fans too.”

Red Bull’s reliability woes in Melbourne have become an unwanted trend; Ricciardo pulling over before the race even started on Sunday came after his then-teammate, Russian Daniil Kvyat, didn’t manage a racing lap for the past two years at Albert Park after breaking down on the way to the grid.

With Ricciardo’s 2017 teammate Max Verstappen qualifying over a second behind Mercedes pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton on Saturday and finishing more than half a minute behind race-winner Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari 24 hours later, Red Bull needs to swiftly find both reliability and pace if it’s to retain its second place in last year’s constructors’ championship.

Ricciardo hoping for better luck

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SUNDAY AGE NEWSPAPER

More often than not, Daniel Ricciardo is a panel-beaters nightmare. Quick, clean and precise, the Australian kept his nose clean and qualified inside the top 10 in all 21 Grands Prix last season, the perfect launching pad for 20 points finishes and a third place in the drivers’ championship. But on Saturday at Albert Park, an uncustomary crash started his season on the back foot, and given Red Bull’s deficit to the front of the grid, was a slip-up he and his team could ill-afford.

Four minutes into Saturday’s final 12-minute shootout for pole position, Ricciardo asked more of his RB13 machine than it had to give, losing control at the medium-speed Turn 14 and slithering off into the gravel, backing the car hard into the outside wall. As a collective groan went up around Albert Park, Ricciardo assured his team that he wasn’t hurt – and then began a long ride back to the pits, avoiding the prying eyes of the world’s media as his helmet stayed tightly on until he reached the safe confines of the Red Bull garage, his fury obvious.

Ricciardo slip-ups are rare; other than Japan two years ago when he crashed at the final corner in practice, and Azerbaijan last season when he clouted the wall before qualifying at the brand-new Baku circuit, the Australian had barely put a scratch on his machinery for the past two seasons. With Red Bull a distant third in the early-season pecking order behind the rampant Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and a Ferrari that has clearly gained speed with Sebastian Vettel at the controls, perhaps Ricciardo was striving for something that simply isn’t there, at least in this early stage of the season.

All weekend, Red Bull has stumbled down one blind alley into another as it tweaked its set-up to compete with, let alone combat, the speed of the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horse. So far at least, nothing has closed the chasm. Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen was a lacklustre fifth in qualifying, 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton’s Albert Park record pole time, an eternity in F1 terms.

“It happened quickly, I could feel rear was starting to come around,” Ricciardo said of his smash.

“I tried to catch it but it came around, and as the result of more downforce and more grip, when you lose it it’s a lot more violent and aggressive, so it caught me out.

“I would have loved to be top five rather than 10th.”

Worse could be yet to come for Ricciardo; the whack with the Turn 14 barriers looked to have caused significant rear suspension damage, and may yet necessitate a change of gearbox for Sunday’s race, which would carry a five-place grid penalty. The chances of Ricciardo improving on last year’s fourth place for Red Bull, the equal-best result by an Australian at their home Grand Prix, now appear remote.

Asked if he was hoping for a mid-race safety car to bring him back into contention on Sunday, Ricciardo’s signature smile made a brief re-appearance.

“I’m hoping for a lot tomorrow,” he laughed.

“There is a chance I might be worse than 10th tomorrow – the guys are checking the car – so if I do have to take a gearbox penalty, that puts me back five more places. Tenth or 15th, both aren’t ideal.

“I didn’t use two sets of ultrasoft (tyres) in Q2, so that means I’ve got a new set of ultrasofts for the race. So if I did do a two-stop, then that would work in my favour, and a safety car would make that a bit more nice. Maybe a safety car with about 15 laps to go would be the dream scenario.”

Holding his breath for more

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SUNDAY AGE NEWSPAPER

He finished 2016 as, to many informed observers, the best driver in Formula One. No, Daniel Ricciardo didn’t win last year’s world championship – the continued technical dominance of Mercedes since F1 entered the V6 turbo hybrid era three years ago put paid to that – but considering what he was driving and whom he was racing, Ricciardo’s 2016 was a year from the top shelf. But that wasn’t enough for the 27-year-old West Australian, and when an opportunity to do something about it came up, he steeled himself for the biggest challenge of his career.

More durable, fatter and faster rear tyres, extra downforce that has redefined the physics of some of Formula One’s fastest turns, lap times that slash five seconds off their equivalents 12 months ago – F1 has become more extreme this season than last, where drivers frequently bemoaned having to drive below their physical and mental limits as they attempted to balance flighty cars featuring excess torque with fragile Pirelli rubber that had to be babied to last more than a few laps on the limit. With that in mind, Ricciardo knew he needed more. And as a result, there’s more of him than ever.

By F1 standards, Ricciardo has a relatively ‘normal’ physique – he’s not the beanpole that is French youngster Esteban Ocon, nor is he diminutive like Williams veteran Felipe Massa. With every excess kilogram critical in an F1 car, Ricciardo has often looked a shadow of his former, younger self in recent years, meal sizes down, time spent cycling at home in Monaco up, his admitted sweet tooth left unsated. But with the extra strength required to drive this year’s cars, Ricciardo cut his off-season short to embark on a brutal fitness program that saw him return to Melbourne this year noticeably fitter, thicker in the neck, his core in career-best shape.

All that extra training doesn’t mean he can overindulge – a packet of Australian chocolate biscuits sits temptingly but unopened in his drivers’ room at the back of the Red Bull garages at Albert Park – but does mean that he’s in a better place than ever to launch his world championship quest this weekend. After a brief trip home to Perth in the off-season, Ricciardo quietly jetted across to California to become the first F1 driver to participate in the Red Bull High Performance Program. Run by American-based Australian human performance expert Andy Walshe, the program lasts a month, testing its participants physically and mentally like never before. It was completely voluntary, and for Ricciardo, now three kilos heavier than last year, completely worthwhile.

“I feel powerful,” he says, simply.

“The emphasis was much more on the strength side of things, working on the core, the neck, that sort of thing. We looked back at last year’s program and didn’t just try to go as hard or a little bit better, we went a lot harder to prepare for what we thought these cars would be like,” he adds, referencing the work he does away from the track with English team-assigned personal trainer Sam Village.

“Preparing for these cars has been a lot of fun, because it meant I could really get after the physical training side in the off-season rather than just top up and keep things at a certain level.

“We went more for strength stuff in the gym – I figured the cardio side will come when we get more laps in the car and get used to that.

“It’s hard to make big gains in strength when the season starts, because it’s so hard to get a block of training in because we’re busy and always on the move somewhere. (The program) was pretty gruelling physically, but so much more fun to train more for a purpose rather than just ticking things over. Because it’s difficult physically, mentally it sharpens you up.”

Physically, Ricciardo is now armed with more knowledge about his body than he thought possible, and has more ways to train for the specific requirements demanded by his profession. F1 drivers are strapped into their 350km/h missiles in a seating position that resembles someone sitting slightly upright in a bathtub, and Ricciardo spent much of the month in the program strengthening his glutes and calves to assist with braking, putting in the kilometres on an ultra G treadmill to refine his running technique and take some of the load off his pelvis, and working his arms to combat the extra cornering speeds achieved by this year’s machines. Early indications suggest it was time well spent.

Albert Park’s one high-speed cornering sequence of note, the left-right flick at the Turn 11-12 chicane, is around 30km/h faster this year and now features an upshift from sixth to seventh gear in the middle of the corner, a seismic shift that has caused the trackside barriers to be repositioned and strengthened from 12 months ago. It said much for Ricciardo’s improved condition that he completed Friday’s practice sessions – close to 50 laps in all – with enough energy to spare that he would have easily jogged back to his city hotel, were it not for an engineering debrief and promotional appearances required of the sole Australian at his home Grand Prix after his day at ‘work’ was done.

The benefits of Ricciardo’s hardcore training regimen have been found mentally too, which has come in handy this week as the Red Bull racer has kept up an event schedule that isn’t exactly the ideal preparation for the first round of a world championship campaign. From his arrival in Sydney on the Monday prior to the race until the Monday evening after it, every minute of Ricciardo’s day has been accounted for, from fan engagements to sponsor commitments to the media deluge that comes with being the local hopeful. Fourteen-hour days before any downtime were common. Other than becoming “pretty obsessed” with his hydration in California, Ricciardo also dabbled in breath-holding techniques typically utilised by deep-sea divers or big-wave surfers. Learning how to hold your breath for over four minutes isn’t entirely applicable to driving an F1 car, but it’s certainly helpful in managing stressful situations.

“From a mental capacity and dealing with what happens inside those four-and-a-half minutes, you can learn a lot about yourself and how to bring yourself back to a calm place,” he explains.

“I’ve only just touched the surface, so I’d now like to do the more intense stuff. For now, the best thing I can use it for is the chaos of the weekend and all the noise and distractions. You don’t get much time to yourself. So when I do get five minutes alone and if I go through some of these breathing techniques, it’ll be a massive readjustment for me. I’ll get a lot more out of a short rest.”

There’ll be precious little chance to rest on Sunday over 58 laps of the unforgiving Albert Park circuit, where concrete walls lurk at every turn, and where first-corner incident has become a staple of the first race of the season. Ricciardo’s fourth place in Melbourne a year ago equalled the best result by an Australian at their home Grand Prix, and while a podium finish to better that is an acknowledged focus for this weekend, he’s in for the long haul. As Ricciardo sees it, an off-season of extreme work can only help in his quest for a legitimate end-of-season title tilt. Physically, he’s never been more ready.

The Dan Diaries: Aussie rules

As he prepares for his home Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo writes about flying the Australian flag on the world stage, and why one Albert Park moment is the highlight of his year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s almost time to get things started properly for the Formula One season in Melbourne, and for my voice, that’s probably a good thing – there’s been a lot of talking this week! Having the first race as your home race is pretty full-on, but in ways, Australia being the first race and the attention that comes my way is actually a good thing. There would be massive interest in the first race anyway no matter where it was – everyone wants to know how your team stacks up against the others, what the rule changes have done over the off-season and whatnot. Adding some extra attention for me because it’s a home race? Tiring, sure, but pretty cool at the same time.

I’m only half-joking when I say that being in the car out on track might be the quietest it gets all week in Melbourne. To give you an idea of how crazy the week is, I flew into Sydney on Monday, and there’ll be things to do and places to be most hours of every day for eight days. They’re big days, but they’re easier for me to handle now because I know what’s coming. I train a bit harder the week before, get pretty obsessive with how hydrated I am, get good sleep. One thing I never forget is that it’s a massive privilege to have a home race as an Australian, and I want to enjoy all of it.

Being one of the few Australians in a properly global sport is a really big deal. It’s probably not something I thought about when I first started in F1 even though I knew there weren’t that many Aussie accents around – I’m much more mindful of it now as I’ve got older. Being older makes you more aware and responsible – that’s what old people always say, right? But I am very aware that in some ways I become a bit of an ambassador for Australia, who we are, what we’re like as people, as we go from one race to another.

What reminds me of the importance of being a good ambassador for us when we’re overseas is when I see other global sports where there aren’t many Aussies involved. For the kids here who are into that sport, that person has a big responsibility. When you’re out of the car, how you portray yourself, how you treat people – all of that is so important. I never feel like I have to try that hard – that old saying of treating people how you want to be treated is so true – but when you’re the one Aussie driver in a global sport, it’s important to do it right.

One of the best moments of my year will happen this weekend, at least based on the last few years. The drivers parade on race day in Melbourne is something that just seems to be better every year. Seriously, it’s almost a bit surreal. There’s just so much to take in and it’s actually very emotional, I’m not going to lie (and I’m not going to cry, don’t worry). You’re made to feel really important, and you definitely get jacked up and want to perform your best. Last year there were people literally running along the fence line with the Aussie flag, yelling my name – I’ve been in F1 a while now, but the intensity of the drivers parade in Albert Park still feels a bit weird, almost like it isn’t real. It’s a massive, massive highlight for me. I was that kid sitting in the grandstands cheering for Mark Webber when I was 12 and he finished fifth for Minardi – to think that people are now shouting my name and cheering for me, it seriously gives you goose bumps.

The race here in 2014 when I came second (I know, I got disqualified, but let’s ignore that) still rates as one of the best things that’s happened to me, even if I didn’t get to keep the trophy. OK, I’ve won races since and all of that, but that day, second place at home, we’d had a terrible pre-season, my first-ever F1 podium (while it lasted) on my first weekend for the team – just crazy really. It was all new to me anyway, and then of all the podiums to step onto … When I walked out there, I was still spinning out in a way, my mind was racing and it was all a bit overwhelming. That noise, the people … when they were playing the national anthem for Nico Rosberg who won, I just kept scanning my eyes from one side of the crowd to the other, taking it all in. This might sound a bit weird in some ways, but that view of the sea of people in Albert Park, I’d actually envisaged that, it was the picture I had in my mind of what that would have looked like if one day I got to stand on the podium at my home race. To actually experience something that seems like it would be unachievable, that’s almost like some sort of dream come true … it felt like something I’d seen before, but even better.

There’s something about the fans here that make me even prouder than I normally am to be Australian, and proud that we have a race here that people are so positive about. There’s so many fans of just racing here, people who love motorsport, who love F1. Yes, they come to support me but they support every team, all the drivers. We’ve got a lot of rev-heads who love the speed of it, the thrill of it. It still amazes me to be honest. And we’re so multicultural here, it’s part of what makes Australia great, and it’s part of the reason we have the fans we have.

I’ve commented about Mexico the past two years since we’ve been going back there as a sport and the fans there, and it’s similar to Australia to me in that they’re passionate about the sport, the fans wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it’s genuine. So, thanks to everyone that’s come to the track already and will come over the next few days. If you’re watching on TV, I feel that support. I appreciate it, we all do. We’ll do our best to give you a good show. Just have to stand on that podium again, I guess …

What’s in store for Max Verstappen?

Our snapshot of Red Bull’s teenage prodigy, and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 F1 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Max Verstappen’s biggest problem? Perhaps that he’s already set the bar so high in just two Formula One seasons. In 40 races, he’s become the youngest driver to start a race, finish on the podium and win a Grand Prix, and six months before he leaves his teenage years behind, the Dutchman comes into the 2017 season talked about as a man who could win world championships – plural – before too long. How on earth can you live up to, let alone exceed, those expectations? That we don’t know; what (we think) we have a better grasp of is how the Red Bull racer’s 2017 pans out.

The stats
You can easily get buried in the numbers for Verstappen, so we’ll stick to two. His debut in Australia 2015 at 17 years and 166 days old made him the youngest driver to start an F1 race; thanks to a rule reset since, that’s a record he’s set to keep. And his maiden win in Spain last year (at 18 years and 228 days) saw him depose another Red Bull prodigy in Sebastian Vettel, who was 21 years and 73 days old when he won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso. At the time, Vettel’s achievement was unfathomable; how many races might Verstappen win before he hits the age when Vettel won his first? In case you were wondering, that’s December 12, 2018 – two full seasons away.

What he did last year
Few saw Verstappen’s ascension to a seat at Red Bull as anything other than inevitable, but for it to happen after just four races last season caught most by surprise, even after Daniil Kvyat’s calamitous home GP in Sochi as Daniel Ricciardo’s teammate at the ‘A’ team. For Verstappen to win on his Red Bull debut next time out in Barcelona – aided, it should be noted, to some degree by the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking one another out on the first lap of the race – was remarkable, but he may have exceeded that achievement by what he did later in the season in Brazil, conquering horrendous conditions to charge from 14th place to the podium in the final 17 laps. Forget last year; what Verstappen did that day was produce a drive equal to the very best in F1 history.

What changes in 2017?
Will Verstappen win races again in 2017? Yes. Will he again be one of the biggest drawcards as the F1 circus winds its way through 20 stops the world over? Yes. So, on the surface, not a lot changes for Verstappen this year; what he’ll want to change is the deficit to Ricciardo in qualifying and races over the course of the year compared to last season, and to mount a legitimate championship charge if Red Bull’s RB13 is up to the task.

Number to know
0 – as in the number of points and race finishes Verstappen has had at Monaco after crashing out in each of the past two years. It’s the only Grand Prix he’s yet to finish in two seasons; reversing that record will be an undoubted focus in 2017.

Chief rival
Verstappen’s relationship with Ricciardo, at least for Australian F1 enthusiasts, will be one that’s watched closely this season. This isn’t a Vettel-Mark Webber Red Bull partnership, where Webber, edging towards the end of his career as Vettel came into the fold in 2009, famously said his pace was “inconvenient” for the team as the German began his run to four straight titles. Both have grown up and been groomed in the Red Bull stable, and while team principal Christian Horner’s comment last December that Ricciardo had been like “an older brother” to Verstappen caused cynics to raise their eyebrows, there’s no doubt that this is a relationship that, for now, has little public tension. That will undoubtedly change if they’re fighting for a title, but for now, Verstappen’s stock can rise even higher if he’s able to beat Ricciardo across their first full campaign as teammates.

Dream outcome
Early wins. Based on pre-season testing, it appears Mercedes and perhaps Ferrari have the legs on Red Bull, but should an opportunity arise for Verstappen, history suggests he’ll take it – or at the very least, go for it. Quite how some of his rivals react to that – particularly those who were outspoken more than once over Verstappen’s robust driving style last year – will make for entertaining viewing.

Nightmare realised
‘Nightmare’ might be a bit strong when your future is as bright as Verstappen’s, but there’ll be disappointment for him and his rapidly-expanding legion of fans the world over if he’s not able to take the next step into the championship’s top three by the end of the season.

Fearless prediction
As we’ve already ascertained, Verstappen isn’t one to bide his time, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares if Ferrari’s pre-season promise is real, given the significant margin Red Bull had over the Prancing Horse for most of last year. Can he match and beat Vettel if the Ferrari is a better car? Where does new Mercedes signing Valtteri Bottas fit into the mix? And can he demote Ricciardo in the Red Bull pecking order? Fifth, where he finished last year, might be where he finishes again, even with a better season. A top-three finish would surprise nobody, though.