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 …

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