Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo says that he is hoping to see at least one of the team's cars on the Chinese Grand Prix podium this weekend, but admits that claiming a top three finish remains a challenge in F1 2014.

The Australian, who had his disqualification from second place in the season-opening race in Melbourne confirmed by the FIA Court of Appeal in midweek, insisted that RBR and engine partner Renault was making small steps towards closing the gap to pacesetter Mercedes, but acknowledged that competing on equal terms was still a long-term prospect.

"We're making small improvements [with the engine], but the gap is a big one, so it's now going to come [down] over one race," he confirmed, "I feel we've crept up a little bit more - the gap is still a big one, but we're coming. Bit by bit, we'll get there and hopefully, before too long, we'll get close."

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Despite finishing the day just half a second of Lewis Hamilton's FP2 pace, Ricciardo echoed Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel's claim that Mercedes may not have been showing its entire hand on day one.

"We have to see where they are tomorrow," he insisted, "I think the gap seems a bit too close for now - I'd like to say we've caught up, but I think they've got a bit more in there and we'll see what they bring out tomorrow. Today looked okay, but I think Mercedes still has a bit more pace. I'm not sure they used everything today and I have a feeling they'll be a bit quicker tomorrow."

Asked whether a podium finish may be possible on Sunday, the Australian remained optimistic, despite identifying another potential fly in the ointment.

"It's probably still too early to say," he confessed, "Mercedes will be very fast and Ferrari looked really quick today, so it'll be a challenge to get both cars there. If we can get one on there - and especially if it's me - then I'll be happy for now. That's the target for this weekend."

The race could yet come down to rubber, with the Shanghai International Circuit notorious for the way it treats front tyres, and Ricciardo was happy with how his Pirellis had withstood the test.

"[Tyre wear] has always been a challenge around this track and particularly with the soft, which seems to wear quite a lot on the front left," he noted, "Turn one is a killer, as is turn 13 coming onto the back straight, but our long run looked okay. I think we got more out of it than we expected and did more laps than we thought we'd do, so it wasn't too bad. You do see lots of marbles around the lap and the tyre is getting a hiding, but I think that's just the nature of the track.

"The team said we did alright on our long run and I think we got more laps out of the option than some of the others from what I understand. That's positive, but we'll see - it's only positive if you can do one less stop in the race..."