Sunday, March 15, 2020


Carsales’ global ambassador, and Australia’s favourite F1 driver, Daniel Ricciardo, says the key to a quick lap at Albert Park is smoothness, and now he is proving it at the home of the Australian Grand Prix:

We arrive at Turn Three, the tight right-hander under the trees where Fernando Alonso once smashed his McLaren into a pile of high-tech scrap.
2020 RenaultSport Megane RS

Dan is floating our RenaultSport Megane RS just a tad sideways on the brakes.
The RenaultSport F1 lead driver has a light touch on the steering and picks a gear early, using one fluid motion to change directions and get early on the power.

He eases the Megane RS up onto the kerb at the nothing-special left-hander that follows, but the next one is The Biggie. It’s a flat-in-fourth right-hander with evil concrete walls on both sides and tentacles of slippery grass on the exit.
There is a slight howl of protest from the tyres as he pushes for maximum cornering grip, then a brief rattle down the concrete kerb as he looks ahead to the next braking zone.

This is our five minutes with fame, but there is a twist. At his home Grand Prix Dan Ricciardo’s diary is so packed that Carsales’ one-on-one interview with Australia’s grand prix ace is being conducted as we hot lap the Albert Park track.
So I’m wedged into place, holding tight to the centre console, and trying to keep my recorder up close to his full-face helmet for the running commentary.

Belted-in, waiting for 'the off'

I’ve just strapped into the Megane RS road rocket right after Craig Lowndes had enjoyed a drive with Danny.
Craig Lowndes has chauffeured yours truly around Albert Park in the past with his Supercars Commodore, and I’ve also been on a hot lap with Mark Webber, including an off-the-road excursion at the high-speed flip-flop on the opposite side of the Lake, in a Porsche 918 hybrid hypercar.
“So I’m probably not going to scare you, then,” Dan says ironically.
“So do you want me to cruise, or give it some?”
As if he needs to ask.
We ease out of the temporary RenaultSport pit at The Carousel restaurant, then he is hard into the accelerator and up through the gears.
“Going fast here is all about flow. There are so many corner combinations that it’s important to maintain rolling speed through the corners,” Dan explains.

'One of my quickest interviews on record'

Riccardo finished the final hit-out of F1 pre-season testing in Barcelona in third place on the timing charts, but he says that’s no real indication for the Australian F1 Grand Prix, which would have been run on Sunday afternoon if not for the CoronaVirus.
“It’s nice to see your name towards the top. But it probably doesn’t mean anything for the first race weekend,” he says.
So where, then, is he aiming for at his home race?
“A top eight would be good. I don’t think that’s unrealistic. I would be reaching for a top eight,” he says.

But we’re still sprinting around Ricciardo’s home track, where he has yet to reach the podium after being disqualified from second in 2014 when his Red Bull team was caught with an illegal fuel flow.
“I do like the track. It is tricky,” he says.
“It’s not the easiest track to get right. But it is nice when you get it going.
“It’s a quick one. This one is good, you let the car flow all the way. It’s good,” he says as we lean through a right-hander that goes on forever before hard braking for a tighter right.
Now we’re coming into the ‘Webber Ess’ from the back of the track and Ricciardo is having time to assess the Megane RS. For me, he is gentler on the car than Webber with a style that is more like Lowndes. He is conducting the car, not brutalising it, working in a partnership and not as an impatient master.
“Wheee,” he says as we move into the second half of the lap and the chat.
“It’s pretty good. I’m still able to get the rear out in a front-wheel drive car. That’s always a good sign for me.
“The weight distribution is good, coming on the brakes. It does float the rear, and then you can get the power down.”

Dan is running up the gears, using the turbocharged torque instead of scraping for revs, and the digital readout shows our speed topping 175km/h without much effort. But then…
“Whoops, I missed the apex there,” he laughs.
“Alright, I’ll talk now.”
So, what’s different in 2020 for his second season at Renault F1?
The driver market is open at the end of the year, the French brand is hoping to have recovered from setbacks last season, and Ricciardo is facing up to a highly-rated new team mate, Esteban Ocon.
“Personally, I obviously feel much more comfortable. But even separating myself, I feel like the team has a lot more stability.
“There was still quite a lot of movement last year with personnel. It still took a while to get everything in line.
“I feel that this year there are a lot more things in place in terms of the team itself, and obviously with me. I think everything is going to flow better,” Dan enthuses.
With that, it’s time to peel off the track and then we have a quick fist-bump to celebrate the lap.
It’s been fun, and fast, even though it’s just another job on just another GP weekend for Ricciardo.
Even so, he already has one special memory from Albert Park in 2020.“It was pretty surreal for me to be driving Lowndesy around. I grew up watching him,” Ricciardo laughs."
Whilst I thank my lucky stars for the great experiences I have been privileged to enjoy.
Paul Gover
NOTE: This feature appears courtesy of Carsales.

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