Toro Rosso enjoyed a solid start to their 2012 campaign with rookie Jean-Eric Vergne qualifying 11th for his first grand prix – but the plaudits went to Daniel Ricciardo who managed to make it into the Q3 shoot-out at the Australian Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo returned to the Toro Rosso offices in the Albert Park paddock sporting a big grin. There’s nothing unusual in that, Daniel seems to have taken over from Rubens Barrichello as F1’s most happy-go-lucky driver but today he was safe in the knowledge that he’d made his home crowd – and his team management – very happy by putting the STR7 into Q3 on it’s first outing.
With Force India and Williams also featuring in the top 10, the midfield battle looks like being very tight this year, but Toro did not look out of place. Daniel only edged out team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne by a 10th of a second but the symbolic achievement of being in Q3 is something to savour – and he was happy to savour it with us...
Daniel, did you get everything out of the car or does it have more to offer?
DR: I think there’s still more. I think with what we had it was a good job to get into Q3 but as for balance and the little details – I think we could have had that better and been maybe a couple more spots up the grid, but generally with what we had out there I thought top 10 was solid.
Did you enjoy it?
DR: I think the whole week has been pretty full on with media commitments and other things outside of driving the car. When I have been strapped in it does feel quite relaxing, in a way, because I’m doing what I came here for. In that respect I haven’t really felt that much pressure. It’s been a relief to be driving!
So will there be more relief next week racing in Malaysia, out from under the spotlight?
DR: I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to leaving Australia, I love being here, I love being home. But put it like this: I think in Malaysia I’ll experience a very different weekend to what I’m experiencing now. This is huge… and I’ll probably be a bit lonely at Sepang.
Jean-Eric Vergne seems to be keeping you company. The contest with your team-mate looks quite intense.
DR: It’s fun. And it’s tough. That’s exactly what you need in team-mates: you need two very competitive drivers. I saw he was quicker than me for a fair part of qualifying and I knew I had to find something else to make sure I was getting in front. I found that at the end but it’s good that I’m making sure I really squeeze all that I can out of myself, otherwise we’re never really going to know the full potential of the car. I think we’ll keep pushing each other.
Are you going to get any sleep tonight?
DR: I think I’ll sleep very well! It’s been a big few days and I don’t think the nerves will overpower the tiredness once I get back to the hotel so I’m pretty sure I’ll sleep. The race is long tomorrow so maybe I’ll fit in a siesta as well.
Winter testing didn’t really separate the midfield. Do you have a sense now that you have a good platform? The car looks pretty solid.
DR: It does. From winter testing it was hard to know where everyone stands and coming into this weekend Q3 was on my mind. But honestly I thought it was a bit of a long-shot. I always try to think positively but realistically I thought we would struggle to get in. From yesterday I realised we had a pretty good car underneath us. Having said that, Williams and Force India got their noses in front of us. Williams in particular showed really strong performance today with Pastor [Maldonado]. We want to make sure we can stop that.
Was breaking into Q3 something that you targeted specifically over the winter?
DR: Not really, we tried a few qualifying sims in Barcelona just to feel the pressure of nailing one lap. In a way it’s maybe not good to prepare for it because it might put more pressure on you. I think if you just go out there and just drive it – maybe that’s better. Of course I was a bit nervous going into Q2 and trying to get into Q3 – but once I was on the flying lap I was just trying to go a bit quicker and a bit quicker.
Are you surprised to be, ahem, ahead of the other Italian team?
DR: Yeah! It was a bit of a surprise. I think everyone knew they weren’t fighting for the top step of the podium but I didn’t expect both of them to be out of Q3. So, yeah, I guess that’s their problem, not ours. We’ll just try to get in front of more tomorrow: don’t feel any sympathy for the others, just get our heads down and focus on ourselves.
Given the rain on Friday, do you have enough data to form a strategy for tomorrow?
DR: I think so. It’s the same for everyone but the team’s been here before. We saved a set of new options by not going out in Q3, so I think we’re in a good position with better tyres than a few of those in front of us. Strategy might be a bit of a roll of the dice with some people trying one stop but I think most people will go for two, which means we’ll all be pushing from the start and not conserving tyres. It’ll be flat out, particularly if it’s cool. I think it’ll be quite an aggressive race.
Saving a set of tyres meant sitting in the garage during Q3. Where might you have been if you had gone out?
DR: I think Force India [Hulkenberg – ninth] was in reach and potentially Williams [Maldonado, eighth] as well. The others would have been more of a stretch, so maybe two places were within reach. But we always wanted to save one set of tyres for the race. One run on the new option in Q2 was quick enough for tenth and it got me into Q3 and we decided to stop there. I would have loved to have gone out and fought for a few more positions, but hopefully it‘ll pay off tomorrow.