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At the sixth attempt, Ricciardo chases first home F1 podium in Australia

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Daniel Ricciardo will venture to next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix looking to end his mixed track record on home soil and score his first official Formula 1 podium finish in Melbourne.

Ricciardo took over the mantle as being Australia’s leading F1 driver at the end of 2013 when compatriot Mark Webber retired from racing, freeing up a seat at Red Bull.

Ricciardo slotted into the role for 2014 and made an immediate impact, crossing the line second in his first race for the team in Australia.

The result sent the home crowd into raptures and Ricciardo was upheld as a national hero, only for the glory to be met with a bitter end when the stewards disqualified the Red Bull driver over a fuel-flow irregularity.

Ricciardo finished sixth in 2015 and fourth last year, once again missing out on a maiden podium at Albert Park, and now heads into his sixth home grand prix looking to break that duck.

Pre-season testing saw Red Bull impress but not overawe the paddock, appearing to run as the third-fastest team behind Ferrari and Mercedes.

However, with technical chief Adrian Newey getting his mojo back for 2017 and a raft of updates for the RB13 car in the pipeline, Ricciardo could yet be in the mix to finally score his first home podium.

“It’s always good to be back on home soil and enjoy a bit of sunshine after winter testing,” Ricciardo said in Red Bull’s race preview.

“My home race is awesome in so many ways but it’s also super busy and full on, the week for me starts on Monday and doesn’t stop until Sunday night.

“It’s nice that there’s so much media attention at the start of the season and everyone is super excited to see how I go. I try and attend as many events as I can but I’m still there to do a job.

“We get a pretty big greeting from everyone when we arrive at track each morning, the fans are so enthusiastic!

“This year they have named a grandstand after me, the Ricciardo Premium Grandstand with views of turns three, four and five, which is pretty cool. It’s another bit of motivation for me to do well and I will of course give the fans a wave. It’s great to have such positive support and I’ve heard the tickets sold out pretty quickly for the stand.

“I will definitely embrace the weekend, have some fun with it and try and give the fans a reason to celebrate on Sunday.”

As well as wanting to break his own home duck, Ricciardo will also be looking to end a run of Australian-less podiums in the Australian Grand Prix that stretches back as far as the world championship races Down Under.

The new F1 season kicks off on March 26, with every session of the Australian Grand Prix live across NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.