The biggest smile in Formula One has reached its limit.
“I officially can’t smile any bigger than that, so you’ve seen it all now,” declared a europhic Daniel Ricciardo, tweeting a photo of his trademark grin at its very widest after his maiden grand prix victory in Montreal, Canada early on Monday.
The 24-year-old took full advantage of power problems that struck dominant Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to grab the lead on the penultimate lap and claim line honours for the first time in his career.
He is the 105th driver to win an F1 championship race but just the fourth from Australia, earning his place alongside greats Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones and his predecessor at the Red Bull team, Mark Webber.
“When you see athletes have their first big achievement and they say they can’t describe their feelings, it’s true, because you dream of it and it’s not often a dream comes true,” Ricciardo said.
“You dream of standing on that podium and seeing all those faces looking at you and when it happens, it’s a bit unreal.
It was a triumph 56 starts in the making and one that few predicted after a problem-plagued pre-season.
But gun performances in the opening six rounds, including back-to-back podiums, have some pundits putting him ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull’s No.1 driver and best chance of catching runaway leaders Mercedes.
Confident but never cocky, the Perth-born driver always knew he had the ability to challenge the four-time world champion. And Monday’s win was proof.
It marked the fifth straight race in which he’s bettered the once-untouchable German, who finished third behind Rosberg.
Vettel was the first to contragulate Ricciardo with a bear hug, before he was swamped with high-fives and plaudits from all corners.
Webber labelled the win the “first of many” on Twitter, while Australia’s last Canadian grand prix winner Jones – now an expert commentator on Network Ten – said: “I don’t care if it’s six o’clock in the morning, I’m going to have a beer!”
But perhaps the highest praise came from Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
“Of all races we thought he could win, this would have been the most unlikely. But the way he drove, he thoroughly deserved the drive,” he said.
“He’s proved his worth. He’s exceeded all of his expectations.”
Ricciardo’s infectious smile spread all the way back home to Perth’s northern suburbs, where his dad Joe watched the race and celebrated the victory with family and friends.
“We’ve had two or three glasses of champagne already,” Ricciardo senior told Fairfax Radio.
“A first win is always a little bit special after a long journey.
“He was amazing. We’re very proud of him.
“I’m lost for words … Wish we could have been there to hug you.”
Champagne isn’t usually Ricciardo’s drink of choice, “but today I started to love it.
“I will probably postpone my flight tonight and maybe have some more of this sweet stuff.”