MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Daniel Ricciardo has no doubt that he would be a Ferrari Formula One driver by now if the Italian fans were given a vote on the matter.
As it is, the Red Bull driver will start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix near the back of the grid for the second year running but there is still plenty of local love for the Australian with Italian ancestry.
“The Italians are nuts in all the right ways,” he told reporters at Monza.
“It’s funny, but even now that I’m signed for the next two years, they are like ‘Hey, vieni a Ferrari (come to Ferrari)’. I’m, like, ‘I don’t know if you guys saw, but...”
Ricciardo is joining Renault next season in a move that dropped like a bombshell in Formula One just before the August break.
Before that, he had been linked in media speculation to glamour team Ferrari and champions Mercedes but neither expressed any interest in pairing him with their title contenders.
Sebastian Vettel has a contract with Ferrari to the end of 2020 while fellow four times world champion Lewis Hamilton recently renewed his deal at Mercedes.
“I feel like if the fans voted, things would probably be different,” said the Australian.
“I guess they (the Italian Ferrari fans) still want some of my Italian blood in one of their Italian cars. But they’re cool. They’re full on but in a friendly way.”
Ricciardo, who said he arrived in Monza a day early just because he wanted pizza, started 16th in Monza last season due to engine penalties and finished fourth. He had qualified in third place.
This time he will have more penalties with Red Bull eager to take up the latest Renault upgrades and wanting to avoid any grid drop at the next race in Singapore where they have a chance of winning.
“Its likely I’ll have another one at some point,” said Ricciardo. “If we could get from Singapore through without any penalties then that would be above target for now.”
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg has a 10-place drop imposed after he caused a crash at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, which means Ricciardo might not be right at the back on Sunday. Despite that, he was still hoping to make the podium.
“The podium looks so good here. I’m hoping for some crazy race that gets me on the podium,” he said.
“I did Eau Rouge (at Spa) without a rear wing on lap one (after a collision) so I think we’re just going to take the rear wing off (here),” he joked.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis