Daniel Ricciardo has probably never smiled quite a brightly as he was in the post-qualifying press conference at the Australian Grand Prix, the local favourite having put his Red Bull on the front row of the grid for the 2014 F1 season-opener.
While Mercedes headed to Australia as the strong favourite for success after a strong pre-season campaign, Ricciardo and the reigning world champions appeared to be firmly on the back foot after struggling with engine and overheating problems in testing. The RB10, however, was a different beast in Australia and, while not necessarily on the pace of the Silver Arrows, was at least a contender for the top ten.
Ricciardo had other ideas, though, and, with the weather playing a big part in qualifying, enthralled the Melbourne crowd by taking the fight to Mercedes due Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
“It was exciting,” he confirmed, his trademark grin lighting up the gloomy press room as night fell, “The weather definitely added to the mix, but the whole session went well.
“I don't think everyone was out with option [tyres] at the beginning, but Q1 looked like it was going okay for us. When the rain fell, I think it was the first time for all of us to have driven these cars on the limit in these conditions. It was tricky but, at the same time, of course, it was a lot of fun.
“It was nice to be always up there - my engineer was on the radio saying 'pace is good, P1, P2, P3', and it was always in that battle for pole position. It's definitely really nice for the first qualifying session with the team.”
Going into the final lap of qualifying locked in battle for pole with the two Mercedes, Ricciardo was able to claim provisional pole from Rosberg, before Hamilton came through to pip the Australian by three-tenths. The crowd reaction confirmed Ricciardo's place on the front row, however, and the cheers were buoyed by the knowledge that four-time champion – and nemesis of previous Albert Park favourite Mark Webber – Sebastian Vettel was down in 13th spot.
“I don't know yet what his issues were, although I saw that he was two seconds or so off my pace at the time,” Ricciardo, who had never previously bettered fifth in F1 qualifying, said of his team-mate, “We'll have to see what went wrong with Seb and his side of the garage but, obviously, it is happy at least for me to be up here and for the team to have a front row start - it wasn't looking like this a few weeks ago so I'm pretty pleased right now!”