MELBOURNE, Australia – The madness of Formula 1 in Australia has certainly not escaped Daniel Ricciardo.
The McLaren driver and local hero, who is preparing for his first Australian Grand Prix since 2019 and ninth as a full-time driver, admits he has never experienced anything like what is happening this year at Melbourne.
“It’s always been pretty wild here, that’s undeniable,” Ricciardo said on Friday morning. “But I felt like it went up a notch, or two, or three. Yesterday was a perfect example. It’s a Thursday and the entrance…the fans…I don’t know not if they thought the race was yesterday, but it felt like a Sunday.
“For a Thursday, and I’m talking worldwide, it was the busiest Thursday I’ve ever had walking into a paddock. It certainly stood out. It’s great. It’s definitely a crazy good and there’s a lot of support and love. I think everyone is thrilled to be back racing. It’s a special feeling.”
The 2020 Australian Grand Prix was called off at the 11th hour, after a McLaren team member tested positive for COVID-19 and the team subsequently withdrew from the event. Last year’s race in Melbourne was scheduled for late November but was also forced to be scrapped due to logistical issues related to COVID-19.
During the 36-month gap between races at Albert Park, Netflix’s docuseries Drive to survive began to flourish, attracting a new legion of fans to the sport. He appears to be the catalyst for a sold-out 2022 Australian Grand Prix.
F1 expects over 410,000 fans to attend this weekend’s event (Friday – Sunday), which would make it the highest-attended Australian sporting event in history. Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief Andrew Westacott believes the number could have been even higher had they been allowed to sell additional tickets, with 25,000 people expected to miss out on a ticket for the race.
“We haven’t been here for two years and we’ve seen all over the world how much F1 has grown, thanks to Netflix and thanks to the excitement of battle,” said championship leader Charles Leclerc. “Coming back here after two years… it shows that things have grown here too.”
Another major difference this year in Melbourne are the changes that have been made to the circuit, an attempt to move away from the relatively sedate races held at Albert Park in the past.
The bumpy street circuit has been redone and shortened by 28 metres, with seven corners modified and two corners removed altogether, bringing the total to 14. The most notable modification is at turn 1, with the opening right-hander now 2, 5m wider and giving riders more racing lines. Turns 6 and 11 have also been widened to allow for faster speeds in the back half of the lap, in the hope this leads to more overtaking opportunities.
“A few of us riders have been involved in discussions about how we could make Albert Park a bit more rider-friendly on Sunday,” Ricciardo said. “From the driver’s point of view, it was still nice but it was not the track that offered the most overtaking.
“I’m going to claim it all if the race is mean and great and everyone talks about it!”