Italians adopt Daniel Ricciardo as their own
WITHOUT a Formula One driver of their own since Jarno Trulli ended his stint at Lotus after the 2011 season, Italian fans have "adopted" emerging Aussie star Daniel Ricciardo as one of their own.
And their adulation could rise to a new level if the 25-year-old can write his name into the history books by becoming the first Australian driver to win the Italian Grand Prix at Monza this weekend.
While Ricciardo was born in Australia, his dad Joe was born in Sicily and moved Down Under with his family when he was seven.
Joe's wife Grace was born in Australia, but her family hailed from Calabria in the extreme south of Italy.
Not surprisingly given Daniel's incredible debut season with Red Bull, Joe has admitted F1 fans were "trying to claim him in Italy".
But while Daniel now lives in Monaco, he is still fiercely proud of his Australian roots and has an Aussie flag on his helmet.
Ricciardo will be chasing a hat-trick of F1 wins at Monza after taking the checkered flag in Hungary and Belgium, where he became the first Australian driver to win since the late Jack Brabham in 1960.
He acknowledged the Mercedes cars of championship leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton would appreciate the high-speed track at Monza, but said he couldn't wait to experience the fantastic atmosphere.
"I'm not really that keen on super-long straights; I find them a little dull compared to hammering through a series of demanding corners. But Monza is the exception to that," Ricciardo said.
"There's something about flashing through those trees in front of that massive crowd that definitely gets the pulse all the way up.
"Also the crowd in Monza is wild. Obviously it's full-on Ferrari, but in the past they've always been very generous to me. I'd love to get the opportunity to stand on that brilliant podium and find out."
With seven races left in the series, Rosberg leads teammate Lewis Hamilton by 29 points, and Ricciardo by 64.
The Aussie was able to take advantage of the animosity between the the Mercedes pair in Belgium, Hamilton's anger at being forced out of the race by Rosberg reaching boiling point afterwards when he accused the German of deliberately taking him out.
While F1 officials decided to take no action, Hamilton suggested this week that he wouldn't be pulling over to let Rosberg past at Monza, or anywhere else.
"My aim for the weekend, of course, is to claw back the gap in the drivers' championship," the Brit said.
"It's as big as it's been all season so I've got a lot of work ahead of me - but anything can happen in this sport. I won't give up until the flag drops in Abu Dhabi. There's still plenty of points to be won before then, so it's far from over yet."