DANIEL Ricciardo was so close to that second place he was cruelly denied in 2014, he could see it.
The Albert Park crowd’s favourite was just two seconds away from the second step on the podium of the Australian Grand Prix, but instead he equalled his best finish of fourth place — the best for any home driver in our GP.
“It’s obviously close today,” Ricciardo said.
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“Even at the end I could see Lewis. He was pretty close to us. I could touch it, but … Yeah, I did everything I could.”
Did he ever.
Ricciardo was thrust into the battle for the podium by the same Virtual Safety Car that handed Sebastian Vettel the race win, the timing of the go-slow period falling right into the lap of Red Bull’s ploy to run a long opening stint on Pirelli’s harder Supersoft tyres.
When the VSC became a genuine Safety Car period, Ricciardo found himself right on the rear wing of Kimi Raikkonen in third place.
The next 20-odd laps were unrelenting between the pair, matching each other sector for sector. At one point, a slight bobble at Turn 2 had Ricciardo’s inner-Honey Badger sniffing a chance at Turn 3, but Raikkonen was wise to that and closed off his path.
His Red Bull race engineer Simon Rennie gave Ricciardo two options in the closing stages: maintain the pressure, or ease off for a few laps to save up for one big push at the end.
Ricciardo made his preference clear over team radio.
“I don’t want to let him breathe.”
The margin wavered around one second before Ricciardo decided to give his tyres that brief respite.
The ensuing charge netted him the fastest lap of the race, but not the silverware he desired.
“I didn’t get comfortable today, I really tried to make something happen,” he said.
“But in the end it would’ve been nice to start further up the front.”
AND THE FASTEST LAP GOES TO …
All four of the frontrunners were driving flat out in the closing laps; Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in their pursuit of victory, while both Raikkonen and Ricciardo were also setting purple sectors in the battle for third.
That the Red Bull pilot walked away with the fastest lap is encouraging.
The last time he did that was in 2016. The year Ricciardo and Red Bull arrived at Monaco and showed everyone a merry dance around the principality.
“I think we’re very close to Ferrari’s pace,” he said.
“I don’t know about Seb, obviously it was hard to say. I have a feeling we were … well (we got) fastest lap, so I think we were definitely one of if not the quickest car in the race. Hopefully that’s representative moving forward.
“I think we’ve still got to find pace on one lap, but the race pace is good.”
After a busy and turbulent week, Ricciardo admitted he was probably going to be happy whatever the result.
“I think regardless I was going to leave here happier today to have raced, just to get that first one over,” he said.
“It’s been a long time coming and I feel the lead-up to the first race is just so dragged out and so long. It’s hard to kind of enjoy the week leading up to it; it’s a bit of a tease; you just want to race.
“So I woke up happy today and was like, regardless, let’s have fun, let’s compete.
“It was good. We were fast at the end. I obviously tried to do all I could with Kimi. It’s a tight track, it is tricky to overtake.
“We set the fastest lap, a really good sign of things to come in the next few weeks.”