Daniel Ricciardo thinks Red Bull is not that far off Mercedes and Ferrari in the aftermath of his "great drive" to fourth place in his home Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo qualified eighth for the F1 2016 season opener in Melbourne and ran as high as third after the red flag period, before having to stop for a third time on lap 42.

The local star then re-joined in fifth, but soon passed the Williams of Felipe Massa to claim the position of 'best of the rest' behind the Mercedes' and the Ferrari of ex-team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

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"It was fun, definitely fun. It was so good to be back racing," Ricciardo said. "I came on the radio more than once to express that. That joy was emphasised by having a good car underneath me.

"At the start we were able to pick cars off. We had good pace with high fuel on the option tyre. It was fun to be able to pass cars - I was enjoying that as always.

"And then I was sitting in a podium spot towards the end and hoping that the tyres would last, but I knew that they were not really going to hold on too much longer.

"So I knew we had to pit, but fourth is still a good result, and I am happy that we are not that far off Mercedes and Ferrari. It is a good start.

"We are closer than we expected."

Meanwhile, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner agreed that Ricciardo's result at Albert Park was heartening: "A great drive from Daniel at his home race, he drove a competitive race from start to finish. It was always a long shot for a podium but he did everything possible. It's encouraging to see the pace of the car in race trim," he added.