The local hope was left beaming after clawing his way from eighth on the grid and fighting for a podium spot at Melbourne’s Albert Park yesterday.
He’d only been aiming for a top-six finish, but found himself battling with the frontrunners Mercedes and Ferrari after the race was suspended following a terrifying crash involving Fernando Alonso.
Nico Rosberg won the race ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel in third.
“It’s a better result than we expected,” said Ricciardo.
“I’m happy with that, but more than anything I’m happy with the pace we had. We were still not as quick as Ferrari or Mercedes, but at parts of the race we weren’t really far off.”
The 26-year-old said it was “refreshing” to be able to pass cars around the unforgiving circuit.
He enjoyed lengthy stints in second and third, giving him a sniff at his first official podium on home soil – having had his first stripped in 2014.
“We were sitting in a podium spot towards the end and I was hoping the tyres would last, but I knew they weren’t really going to hold on for too much longer and we had to pit again,” he said.
“I was hoping maybe Vettel and Lewis would have a bit of a battle at the front, but anyways, fourth is still a really good result.
“Our genuine pace is good and that’s encouraging for the upcoming races.”
Only twice last season did Ricciardo get a better result, a third in Hungary and second in Singapore.
The unreliability of their Renault engine caused grief at Red Bull, but to start the season with a bang will give the team a mighty boost heading into 2016, Ricciardo believes.
“All the team is smiling and it’s good,” he said.
“It’s good to see that spirit in the team. Obviously last year was a bit up and down, so to come out swinging here it’s awesome and obviously for me a little bit of icing on the cake to be at home.”
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. People don’t like change. Formula One’s new qualifying format lasted less than 24 hours after being slammed by drivers, team bosses and fans. Team officials met with the FIA yesterday and voted to scrap the rolling elimination system ahead of the next race in Bahrain. Stricter radio communication rules were also loosened barely an hour before race time to the confusion of many.
2. F1 has come a long way. If it wasn’t for the sport’s safety development over recent decades, Fernando Alonso may not be alive. The two-time champion escaped uninjured after his McLaren-Honda rolled twice and was smashed to pieces in a terrifying crash also involving Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.
3. Strategy counts. Sebastian Vettel looked set to spoil Mercedes’ two year-long party after getting the jump on frontrunners Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, but a decision to fit the soft tyre at the restart following Alonso’s crash cost him dearly. Ferrari were forced to bring him in again to change to a longer-lasting harder rubber, denying him a chance at a season-opening win.
4. Red Bull has wings. Daniel Ricciardo proved his team weren’t so far off Mercedes and Ferrari with a fourth-place finish. He started from eighth and almost scored a podium but, like Vettel, was on the wrong tyres. Still, he gave local fans something to cheer about and is hopeful things will get even better as the season rolls along.
5. Is Haas, is good. The American team bagged some well-earned championship points on debut, with Romain Grosjean finishing sixth. Technical issues had limited their time in testing and weather did the same in Melbourne. The only sour note was Gutierrez’s retirement after Alonso clipped his rear wheel and caused extensive damage.
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