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[SYDNEY] Formula One ace Daniel Ricciardo Thursday threw his support behind nine fellow Australians facing court after stripping off at the Malaysian Grand Prix, calling their celebrations "harmless".
The men, including a staffer of Australian Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, stripped down to tight-fitting swimming briefs emblazoned with the Malaysian flag and quaffed beer from their shoes after Ricciardo won the race on Sunday.
They were arrested for "intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace" and public indecency, state news agency Bernama quoted police as saying, and have been held since with a court appearance expected Thursday.
Reports in Australia said they could be jailed for up to two years, but Ricciardo called on authorities to send them home.
"It sounds like they have learnt their lesson and I don't think they will be doing that again any time soon in Malaysia," the Red Bull driver told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.
"I see it as pretty harmless. I respect the laws in Malaysia but beyond that I don't think they deserve any further punishment.
"In Australia it's a bit different but I'm very sure they didn't intend to offend anyone." The tabloid Telegraph also got behind the men, aged between 25 and 29, writing: "To our recalcitrant, humourless Malaysian friends... Free the Budgie Nine."
Budgie smugglers is the colloquial term Australians use for Speedo-style swimwear.
Photos of the men flaunting the country's national colours went viral in Malaysia following the race, provoking angry comments from some social media users who accused them of insulting the country.
Displays of public indecency are not tolerated by authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia, with foreign offenders typically slapped with a fine before being deported.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the men were being offered consular support but warned there were limits to what Canberra could do.
"They are facing certain charges and what might be seen as a foolish prank or Aussie blokey behaviour in Australia can be seen very differently in another country," she told Channel Nine.
"You have to respect the laws of the country you are visiting."