Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo says Renault is certainly capable of making a step forward with its power unit akin to that of Ferrari, but says he won't assume it will certainly happen after the disappointments of the 2015 season.
Following his breakthrough campaign in 2014 – which yielded three wins in his first season with Red Bull -, Ricciardo endured a frustrating 2015 campaign typified by criticism of the Renault power unit, which was considered to be both underpowered and unreliable compared with Ferrari and especially Mercedes.
With tensions building as Red Bull actively sought a new engine partner during the second-half of 2015 – and Renault itself made plans to return to F1 as a fully-fledged constructor -, the team nonetheless retains the French firm's power units for 2016, albeit under the TAG Heuer nameplate.
With team manager Christian Horner predicting a difficult start to the season for Red Bull, Ricciardo admits 'top 12' appears a realistic target from the off.
“I'm sort of fighting for a top 12,” he said, speaking at the launch of the 2016 car's revised livery. “I shouldn't be disappointed if that's the case right?
“A win is what I would hope, I say that thinking the season is long. If it comes, I don't think it is going to come straight away. I think it has to be better, it's just a case of how much better. The first few races, it'll be more or less like last year but once we get into the European season, we should start to really develop more.
Indeed, though Ricciardo believes Renault has the ability to make a similar leap experienced by Ferrari last year, he says the persistent disappointments of last year means he is keeping his expectations tempered.
“There is a lot of room for improvement with the power unit, even more than Mercedes and Ferrari,” he continued. “If we can get the right sort of ingredients behind it this year, we should see a bigger step. I think it will come - we have had a few years with these power units so whatever got misunderstood last year, there has been enough time to understand it for this year.
“I like to think by time we get to Europe, we should be pretty competitive, getting a lot closer to Ferrari and ahead of Williams. But it's one of those things, like last year, we were supposed to have updates regularly but they didn't really come on time and when they did come they weren't really giving us what we were hoping.
“For that reason, I'm going to be reserved with my expectations but I think realistically it has to be better and I think it will.”