Daniel Ricciardo is prepared to fight for victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after topping the second Friday practice session, but the Australian is prepared to lose his pace advantage in qualifying.
Ricciardo was fastest on both the supersoft and the ultrasoft tire, and by the end of FP2 he had edged Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by 0.069 seconds, notwithstanding the fact the Finn had the benefit of a tow down the long main straight on his fastest lap. He also bettered his teammate Max Verstappen by 0.116 seconds.
It was an impressive result given Red Bull Racing’s Renault engine lacks horsepower compared to its Mercedes and Ferrari rivals on the power-sensitive circuit. But Ricciardo said his confidence around the narrow streets was enough to make the difference.
“I was very happy today,” he said. “With a street circuit you need confidence in yourself and in the car. The car was well behaved and didn’t take any confidence away from me.
“The car feels really strong through the castle section in the second sector and I felt comfortable and confident there. It’s a very tight part of the circuit but that’s the place that I felt most comfortable and the RB14 felt strong.”
An important indicator of Red Bull Racing’s chances this weekend was Mercedes’s poor showing in FP2, when neither Valtteri Bottas nor Lewis Hamilton could get within seven-tenths of a second of Ricciardo’s leading time.
But Ricciardo wasn’t prepared to take the Silver Arrows for granted knowing the Mercedes team has been dominant in Azerbaijan over the last two years thanks to its horsepower advantage.
“I do remember last year on the Friday both our cars were very quick and we didn’t quite have the same pace in qualifying, so I’m not going to play it up or anything,” he said.
“I’m sure the others will turn it up a bit in qualifying and gain in sectors one and three, but sector two will be the key for us.
“It is encouraging even if we don’t qualify on the front row tomorrow as I think the race car will be very strong. We are still in the group of favorites.”
Long-run pace based on Friday practice data suggested Red Bull Racing’s closest rival would be Ferrari, with Mercedes as far back in race trim as they were in pure pace.
The times hint that the weekend could come down to a straight Ferrari-versus-Red Bull fight.
“There was a good relationship with myself and the car so we will build on that tomorrow,” Ricciardo said. “I think we can still find a little bit more but generally I was happy and I think it’s going to be quite a close battle tomorrow and Sunday.”