Formula 1 in Australia: For a change, the focus is not on Max Verstappen – sport

On the other side of the world, the view of Formula 1 has been reduced to one big duel for weeks, and it’s not the one between Max Verstappen and the rest of the driver field. This meant that the Australian public was spared a lot of inconsistencies and unsavory details from the Red Bull racing team.

Verstappen’s third pole position in a row, who was able to catch Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari on the decisive qualifying lap for the Australian Grand Prix, was of course warmly acknowledged by the hundred thousand people in Albert Park on Saturday. But the big ahs and ohs went to the local duelists: Oscar Piastri goes into the World Cup race on Sunday (5 a.m., Sky) in fifth place with the McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo only starts with the Racing Bulls car on the 18th and this weekend penultimate place after his fastest lap was canceled.

A very interesting long-distance relationship, not just in terms of the time table, and not just for the local ones petrolheads. Because Piastri versus Ricciardo, that also represents the major generational conflict that is generally emerging in the premier class of motorsport. Piastri will only turn 22 next week and is the youngest in the field. It’s only his second season, but his team has already given him a contract until the end of 2026, that’s how highly his talent is rated. Ricciardo will be 35 in the summer, he was already out of the racing business, but has fought his way back into Red Bull’s B formation. He has to worry about staying in Formula 1, even though he is still hoping for a promotion to the cockpit Verstappen dreams.

Ricciardo has been in the wrong place at the wrong time too often in his career

The two compatriots from a motorsport-crazy continent that has produced more champions than the classic racing nation of Italy could not be more different. Newcomer Piastri presents himself more seriously than Michael Schumacher could ever be; Veteran Ricciardo has been smiling all the time for years.

But Formula 1 drivers are practiced at disguising their true self; they don’t even necessarily need a helmet visor to do so. The ambitious Piastri is actually extremely life-affirming, he can only switch completely when it comes to his sporting ambitions. “Oscar operates with clinical precision,” says his manager Mark Webber. It is part of the World Cup Candidate operation for last year Rookie of the Year and sprint winner from Qatar therefore also tries to show as little emotion as possible and thus open up a target for attack. “With both feet on the ground,” praised the local media.

After a forced break, Daniel Ricciardo is a regular driver again – albeit at the Red Bull talent shed.

(Photo: Martin Keep/AFP)

Ricciardo, who was displaced by Piastri at McLaren, had to endure a six-month break in 2023. At first it seemed very welcome, but then the eternal joker realized the seriousness of the situation: “I cursed the races. I had to learn to love the job again.” This pain therapy got him back on track when a spot became available again in the Red Bull talent pool. Ricciardo took advantage of the opportunity, he still has the necessary basic speed. But the pensiveness doesn’t seem to be completely gone, and that may be a hindrance in his battle in the transfer market.

It doesn’t help that he will be in the top ten of the drivers with the most Grand Prix appearances at the end of the season. “Nice guys don’t win,” says an old industry prejudice. Ricciardo clearly refuted that with eight wins, and he was also the one who was able to displace Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. But too often in his career he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although both Australians began their careers in racing karts at the age of nine, Piastri already had significantly more experience with the subject, having worked with remote-controlled cars at an early age. In fact, it gave him a lot of driving experience, he once said. In parallel to the young talent formulas, he has clocked up hundreds of hours in the simulator or in sim racing in front of the computer: “If you don’t do that, there will always be someone who will take advantage of it.” Ricciardo belongs to the predominantly analog generation, for whom there were few digital alternatives beyond the Playstation, and certainly not as perfect as today. Piastri sees himself at risk in the long term: “Most kart drivers are now sitting in the simulator at the age of six. That will make it easier for them on the racetrack.”

For the Australian fan base, which is expected to bring Melbourne another record number of visitors, the two very different types guarantee the perfect storytelling. Piastri presents himself in the men’s magazine esquire in Armani, Ricciardo counters in GQ dressed entirely in Dior. But Ricciardo also sends a message to the next generation of racing drivers on glossy paper: “Don’t look at the pleasant side effects, rather make sure that the priorities are right: after all, you are chasing your dreams.”

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