Ricciardo's Formula One quest starts in earnest on home track

After impressing in Abu Dhabi last year in the Young Drivers Test, Daniel Ricciardo will take part in Toro Rosso's first practice race this season.

MELBOURNE // After impressing in Abu Dhabi last November with Red Bull-Renault, Daniel Ricciardo, the 21-year-old Australian, is taking a massive step forward in his quest to race in Formula One.

He will take part in Toro Rosso's first practice session at every race this season, starting with his home Grand Prix today in Melbourne.

We catch-up the talented driver just before he jumps into the car for the day.

How are you feeling ahead of your first outing at Albert Park this afternoon?

"I'm very excited for this weekend. It's my first time out on the track with everyone else and to do that in Australia is going to be pretty special.

You were the fastest in Abu Dhabi at last year's Young Drivers Test. Is that how the Toro Rosso deal came about?

"Yeah, last year, I got my foot in the door with Red Bull's Formula One team and I had a good season, so they have pushed me up and given me a chance with Toro Rosso this year.

"Since I signed a contract with Red Bull three or four years ago, they have made a lot of things possible; they have made it all happen for me, really. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I would have had this opportunity with anyone else."

As well as your Formula One duties, you will also be racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. What targets have you set yourself for the next 12 months?

"The first thing on my list is to win the World Series by Renault – that is 100 per cent clear for me. After that, it is really just about improving, progressing and learning about Formula One.

"I want to try and do as much I can in the first practice session to prepare me, hopefully, for a race seat in 2012. That is really the long-term aim.

With your compatriot Mark Webber coming so close to winning the drivers' championship last year, how do you see the future of motor sport developing in Australia?

"It's definitely going in the right direction. Mark has made a big impact and helped develop it on an international scale.

"Five or six years ago, all my friends at school weren’t so much into Formula One and now with Mark’s recent success and myself coming up, there are so many more people who are getting interested and involved in it.

"It's definitely getting bigger and if I can step up then that can only help develop it even more.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks regarding Melbourne losing its race. Bernie Ecclestone has said Australia needs F1 more than F1 needs Australia. How important do you think it is for the country to remain on the calendar in the future?

"Keeping the race is so important and it would be a huge disappointment if this was one of the last times I was to come here.

"Australia is a great sporting nation, as we all know, and if it lost Formula One it would be a massive blow, so I am just praying really that this doesn't happen."