Daniel Ricciardo believes Red Bull is closing the gap to Mercedes ahead of the Australian Grand Prix after setting the pace on the second day of the final test in Barcelona.
Red Bull struggled at the start of 2017 but improved to be a threat in a number of races toward the end of the season, and set an encouraging pace on Wednesday in Spain. Ricciardo was quickest on the hypersoft tire – the softest compound – beating Lewis Hamilton by 0.353s as Mercedes ran the ultrasoft, and the Australian thinks he will be in the mix at the front at his home race.
“I think that, looking at it now we are close,” Ricciardo said of his chances of scoring podium in Melbourne. “I still don’t know where Ferrari are, I’m quite confident Mercedes is probably just in front of us but Ferrari I’m not sure. But I think we’re going to be much closer than last year.”
On the lap that topped the times on Wednesday – a new track record at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – Ricciardo also said he could have gone even quicker and expects to see the time beaten in the final two days of testing.
“It’s early days, so I think there’s still more to come, but I think that for where the car is now and how the lap was, it wasn’t too bad. There’s probably a tenth on the last sector, so I could have probably made it into the 17’s – but it was pretty good.
“I think we made a good step with the car today; again we made a few changes this morning and each change seemed more or less positive, or more positive than negative. So I think we got the car running better today, got it faster, reliability was good, so it’s getting there.
“I still think we need to find a bit more to, realistically, match Mercedes, but I don’t think we’re far behind. I think it’s positive.”
Elaborating on where he sees Mercedes holding an advantage, Ricciardo believes it is more than just based on the tire difference on Wednesday.
“I guess their qualy mode, when they decided to use it, will probably be a bit more than ours as well. I think that they still have a bit more on the rest, but it is not too bad. We are looking pretty good. Not really sure about Ferrari at the moment, but we are in a decent place. We made some good changes to the car today, so I think we are better than we were 12 months ago, let’s say that much.”