Daniel Ricciardo admits that Red Bull Racing still has work to do to close the gap on F1 pacesetters Mercedes, but is not giving up entirely on a surprise result in the Spanish Grand Prix.
With RBR team-mate Sebastian Vettel running into bad luck this weekend – the German was sidelined in both Friday practice and final qualifying – Ricciardo has had had to carry the load for the reigning champions, and responded by proving to be the most regular 'opponent' for the runaway duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Joining them in the top three grid positions, the Australian acknowledged that raceday would be tough, but that he had also taken some encouragement from his long runs on day one.
“I think we're again sort of 'best of the rest' but that's not quite good enough, [as] we're still a second off,” he conceded, “I thought my lap was not too bad, so I was expecting a smaller gap than that, and I think we've made some improvement, but Mercedes have as well. We would have liked to have closed that [gap], but we have some work ahead of us.
“On a positive note, we're a clear third today. I think we had a pretty good gap to P4, so that's not too bad, but for sure we want to get closer to the front two. Even with a different strategy in the race, it's going to be very hard to make up a second per lap, but we've got to just keep chipping away.
“We'll put up a fight tomorrow and at least try to get on the podium. The plan is always to try and get a good start and, yeah, if we can do something about Lewis and Nico, we will try our best. The pace yesterday was good [and] I think, in relative terms, we made the tyres last a long way. I think if there's any issues with making a two-stop [strategy] possible, if the race ends up being more of a three-stop, then we might be in that window to do a two, but we will see how we go. We have to assess everything after lap one and then push from there.”
Even with the optimistic outlook, however, Ricciardo admitted that there were other factors that needed to be taken into account.
“It's a tricky one here,” he explained, “You push but you're in conservative mode for the tyres as well. It's one of those tracks where tyre wear is a big one.
“We'll see how we go. It's a track that I think all of us drivers enjoy driving
Around - we're always on the limit here. We get a few corners where we brush the
barriers and I think, this year, it's going to be even more of a challenge. We may not have to get too carried away with getting close to the walls because, if the rear snaps, then - as we saw with [Valtteri] Bottas in Melbourne - things are probably more likely to happen. But that's what we get paid the big bucks for, yeah?”