Ricciardo seizes Webber's mantle with both hands

Sat Mar 15, 2014 6:41am EDT
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Daniel Ricciardo's promotion to the Red Bull hot seat promised a more pliable partner for Sebastian Vettel, but the 24-year-old's impressive qualifying at his home Grand Prix suggests the world champion has another gritty Australian to deal with.

Tensions with his former team mate Mark Webber were a hallmark of Vettel's four championship years as the chisel-featured Australian railed at playing second fiddle in the Red Bull garage.

The German's ruthless pursuit of victory, occasionally at Webber's expense, endeared him to few Down Under and a certain schadenfreude was detectable in the cheers at Albert Park when Ricciardo finished second in qualifying on Saturday compared to Vettel's 13th.

Ricciardo will line up with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on the front row on Sunday but will no doubt be hogging the headlines in local newspapers after showing creditable composure on a greasy track doused by rain showers.

Rather than save his best until last like Hamilton, a determined Ricciardo set the pace from the outset, topping the timesheets early and re-claiming the front running with seconds to spare before being ultimately overhauled.

"It was nice to always be up there," Ricciardo told reporters, flashing his trademark toothy smile.

"The engineer was on the radio saying: 'pace is good, P1, P2, P3' and it was always that battle for the pole position so definitely a really nice first qualifying session with the team.

"We'll have to see what went wrong with Seb and his side of the garage, but for now, it's happy for me to be at least up here.   Continued...

Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia gestures at a news conference after the qualifying session for the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Brandon Malone