Daniel Ricciardo is hopeful that Red Bull and Ferrari will be within 0.5s of Mercedes at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes looked the class of the field on long runs during pre-season testing but struggled more with the softer compound tires, while both Ferrari and Red Bull showed glimpses of competitive pace. Despite acknowledging Mercedes still has yet to show its qualifying potential, Ricciardo believes all three teams should be within a relatively small margin.
“I’d love to think us top three – the more the teams the merrier, but if I’m just talking top three – I’d love to say we are all within half a second,” Ricciardo said. “I think that’s still being quite conservative but it leaves six cars within half a second. It’s looking allr ight. I’d like to think that’s as big as the gap is going to be spread.”
While he still marks Mercedes out as favorites, Ricciardo is confident enough in Red Bull’s performance to target a top-three finish at his home race in Melbourne.
“I don’t know where we stand with Ferrari. I think we are close. I couldn’t tell you if we are a tenth [of a second] quicker or they are. But Mercedes kept a bit under wraps at testing, so I don’t want to say we are out of it before it begins but I think on real pace, the Mercedes is still ahead of the Ferrari and Red Bull. I don’t know if we are just behind them or just behind Ferrari. A good weekend would be a podium.”
Despite launching its new car earlier than in past years, Ricciardo believes Red Bull will mark itself out as a title contender if it can back up his prediction and challenge at the front this weekend.
“[The earlier launch] certainly helped. Day one in Barcelona proved it. We had got the filming day done, we got the car running and got it on track and then had a week before testing to get a few niggles out and on day one we did over 100 laps,” he noted. “I’d like to think that was the reason. The team was a bit more proactive this year and a bit less greedy going to the last minute.
“We are coming to Melbourne a lot more prepared than we have been in previous years. We have to use that to our advantage. If both cars can get strong points finishes this weekend – and by that I mean the podium – I think that will send out a strong statement to Mercedes and Ferrari.”