'Daniel makes a difference': GP chief hails Ricciardo effect

Australia’s Grand Prix chief has hailed Daniel Ricciardo’s impact on his home race as officials predict a bumper weekend for the sport.

Daniel Ricciardo might not be as competitive in a Renault as he would have been in a Red Bull this year but the local hero can still draw a crowd.

Australian Grand Prix chief Andrew Westacott says the season-opening race is on track to eclipse last year’s attendance figures, with interest in Ricciardo still sky high.

Westacott is confident the overall crowd figure for the four-day event at the Albert Park circuit will exceed 300,000 people and hopes more than 100,000 fans will be there on race day.

“We’re fighting fit … the sales across corporate, grandstand and general admission are up about seven to eight per cent on last year,” Westacott said.

Home fans will be hoping Ricciardo can claim a place on the podium. Pic: Getty

“Daniel makes a difference … he’s a hero.

“I love my sport and I think Daniel is like (NBA star) Ben Simmons – he’s someone who people relate to.

“He’s a nice kid in a day and age when some of the behaviours of sportsmen and women can leave a bit to be desired.

“Daniel has always been big. Everyone empathises with him – he had an ordinary year late last year … we all felt for him.

“But it’s a fresh start for him.”

After a cool start to the week, the notoriously fickle Melbourne weather is promising to help race organisers attract large numbers through the gates, with temperatures rising.

Unlike other years, the race won’t clash with the opening round of the AFL season, which is a huge bonus according to Westacott.

Ricciardo has done his best to temper expectations for Renault as they look to close the gap on Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but Westacott is bullish about his prospects.

Ricciardo poses for photos with fans in Melbourne. Pic: Getty

“I reckon he is capable of gunning for a podium,” he said.

“No one knows exactly how they’re all going to perform.

“Renault will have a good package and they’ve gone well here before.”

Westacott spoke to reporters at the F1 season launch event at Federation Square on Wednesday.

Thousands of fans packed out the Melbourne landmark as all 20 drivers were presented on stage for the first time.