Daniel Ricciardo would be misguided to believe that he reached a new level after out-pacing HRT team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi
in the Hungarian Grand Prix, and the down-to-earth Australian acknowledges as much as he seeks to create enough of an impression to cement his place on the grid next season.
The Red Bull
protégé has been loaned to the Spanish minnow for the remainder of the season, but only has Italian veteran Liuzzi - another former Red Bull
development project - to compare himself against as HRT struggles to take the F1 fight to Marussia Virgin through the middle of the 2011 campaign. Having got the better of his colleague through free practice in Hungary, he was taken down a peg or two as Liuzzi got the upper hand in qualifying, but then finished ahead of the troubled Italian - for the first time - in the race.
Despite the morale boost that that provided, Ricciardo admitted that he doubted it was purely performance-based.
"I'll have to look into it because I'm not really sure how we went," he confessed to Red Bull's website after the 70-lap event, "I'm not sure if I had good luck or a better strategy, or if we were genuinely faster but, after the race, people in the team came up to me and said I drove well, so I guess that means we had pretty good pace. So yeah, it's very positive and we're definitely making progress."
Despite being confined to the rear of the field, the Australian - who is dovetailing his F1 duties with racing in the World Series by Renault
- used the majority of the race to extend his experience.
"I'm pretty happy with today, especially because those were difficult conditions," he revealed, "We started on the inters like everyone else, then went supersoft, supersoft, soft. I felt more comfortable on that final stint on the prime tyre. The supersoft was okay, but it had a shorter life and, at the end, to get a longer stint out of the prime, we had to time it well to make sure we didn't have to pit again. I'm very satisfied with how that turned out.
"Honestly, when you are driving by yourself towards the end of the race, rather than being involved in a fight, then it's about you and it's an extended test session. You try to stay consistent and try to learn something about the car and how it behaves - but it's a lot more fun if you're fighting someone. That also makes the race go quicker.... When you're by yourself, it seems like it's going on forever but, at least today, even though I was by myself, I was able to get that consistency and had the feeling that my pace was pretty good relative to what the car is ultimately capable of. That's encouraging, which also means it's less boring.
"I think I learned a lot today. Finishing the race is good for me and, in difficult conditions, I learned a lot about how to manage the tyres. It's another tick in the box and more knowledge up in the head"
If anything, Ricciardo would probably be keen for the season to continue as normal, instead of taking its traditional summer break until the Belgian GP at the end of the month, particularly as he feels that he has yet to reach his full potential in the HRT.
"I've got a few PR events, then it's back in England for a bit of training before my World Series by Renault
race at Silverstone, so, it's a shorter break for me," he admitted, "but I think there's a bit more in it, and I guess it just comes with time.
"I hope there is because I'm close to Tonio on raw pace in qualifying but still not close enough - and definitely not a bit ahead, which of course is where I'd like to be. I felt I drove a good lap [in qualifying at the Hungaroring], but he was just over a tenth quicker than me, so he drove a better lap. We're in the same car, so I'm sure there's a few things I can learn – mostly about the tyre actually. He did his best lap on his first flying lap and I did mine on the second, so I think, if I can learn how to get more out of the tyre on the first lap, then maybe the time will naturally come."