You could forgive Perth product Daniel Ricciardo for wondering what rain is, let alone what to do in it behind the wheel of a formula one car. Three days ago, the West Australian state capital had its first precipitation in 100 days; on Saturday at the Australian Grand Prix, Ricciardo showed why his improvisational best is right up there with the elite.
For five thrilling seconds at a sodden Albert Park, Ricciardo held pole position with a brilliantly executed final lap, a brave performance on the shallow-grooved intermediate tyres that, by rights, should have been back in the garage. But when it mattered, 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton used his experience and skill to pip Ricciardo at the post, sealing his third pole position in Melbourne with a last-gasp lap of 1min 44.231secs on full wet tyres, a lap three-tenths of a second faster than Ricciardo could muster.
For Ricciardo, the best qualifying performance of his career in his first race for Red Bull felt like a victory. His smile, bright at any time, lit up the gloom at Albert Park as Melbourne's famously fickle weather struck in qualifying for the second consecutive year.
''It was exciting; definitely the weather added to the mix, and the whole session went well,'' Ricciardo said. ''When the rain fell, it's the first time we've all driven these cars on the limit in wet conditions. It was tricky but a lot of fun.''
''For me to start the season with a front row, it does a lot of good things for the confidence. But it's just the start, and I obviously have to race tomorrow and try to finish up the front of the order.''
On a day where world champions Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and reigning world champion and Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel couldn't even break into the top 10, Ricciardo thrived. He was atop the timesheets when the initial period of qualifying was affected by a downpour, and second in the middle part of the dramatic hour-long session behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. And in the top 10 shootout, his gamble to take on the soaked track on tyres best suited to a light shower looked to be a masterstroke until Hamilton's last hurrah.
In qualifying on the front row for the first time in his 51st grand prix, Ricciardo equalled Mark Webber's second place on the grid 12 months ago in Melbourne as the best result for an Australian in their home grand prix.
Should he finish in the top three on Sunday, expect a celebration exceeding the scenes sparked by Webber's memorable fifth on debut at Albert Park in 2002, which stands as one of the Australian Grand Prix's most memorable moments. Then, the baton would have truly been passed from one generation to the next.
The story Ricciardo lights up Albert Park with sizzling qualifying time first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.