Daniel Ricciardo expects drivers to have more influence on their qualifying position in the early part of the season due to how close the midfield battle looks after pre-season testing.
Renault, Haas, Toro Rosso, Alfa Romeo and McLaren all appeared to be closely matched during testing, with each team showing flashes of promise without revealing their true competitive level. Ricciardo will make his first start for Renault at the Australian Grand Prix next weekend, and he predicts there will be more emphasis on individual driver performances early on should those teams be as close as they appear.
“I still don’t really know what to expect in Melbourne,” Ricciardo said. “I think the midfield battle will be very close. I don’t expect to be on the front row, but I don’t expect to be on the back row of the grid. We will be somewhere there in the middle.
“But it could even come down to which driver does the better lap in Q2 or Q3. A lot of the cars are going to be very close. So it could just be whoever does a cleaner lap – that could make a difference of one or even three positions. I’m looking forward to seeing where everyone is at. It has been pretty close in testing.
“You are still going to get the top couple of teams having a bit of a gap to the rest at the start of the season, but the midfield certainly seems like it is going to be close. It could also just be down to track temperatures; which layout suits a particular team. I also don’t think what we will see in Melbourne is going to be the way the whole season plays out. It is going to change quite a bit throughout the season, especially in the first six races.”
While a midfield battle would make a change of scenery for Ricciardo, who was often targeting victories in the past at Red Bull, the Australian says being involved in on-track action is a significant motivator regardless of position.
“I’m certainly looking forward to battles. Obviously the further up the grid, the better! I’m expecting a lot. The midfield looks really close, and even last year it was tight, you could always see that battle for fourth position in the constructors’ so that was always going to be close. Looking forward to that.
“The further up the front, the more fun I’ll be having. In the past few years I’ve said winning is the greatest satisfaction you get from racing, but the second biggest thing is battling and fighting. Just driving around for 60 laps by yourself isn’t so fun, so if you’re in a battle and you get the most of that battle that’s very rewarding.”