Daniel Ricciardo admits that he has suddenly become a lot more superstitious after returning to F1 action on the back of incrementally improving results.
Confiding that he did not really want the summer break that has shut down the F1 circus for most of the past month, the Australian will look to pick up the momentum of finishes of fifth, fourth, third and second in the recent races in Austria, Britain, Hungary and Germany and cap that with a second Belgian Grand Prix to add to the one he took in his breakthrough 2014 campaign.
“After Hockenheim, I would have loved to race the next weekend,” Ricciardo confirmed, “5, 4, 3, 2! You know the score, I'm not superstitious but right now I am!”
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Prior to his recent run, Ricciardo's best result had been second in Monaco – a race that still brings a resigned grimace as he remembers the potential victory that was dashed from his grasp – nestling amid a rash of fourth and seventh places, but the Red Bull driver clearly feels that not only has his team got the better of Ferrari, but is now in a position to think about challenging for top spot on a more regular basis.
“I would hope [we can be close to Mercedes this weekend],” he said, “The race pace in Hockenheim was good; Budapest, we were there a bit, and then they sort of turned it up. At Hockenheim, Lewis [Hamilton] was still controlling it, but I don't think that they were that much quicker – and I don't think Hockenheim suits us any more than this track. If we can just keep nailing the set-up and get the car in the window where it works well - and maybe if there is just one Mercedes in front, if we can put a bit of pressure on him, and jump him at the start or something - then I really think we can do something about it.”
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While he clearly has his sights on adding to the three victories he achieved a couple of seasons ago – and joining new RBR team-mate Max Verstappen on the winners list for 2016 - Ricciardo knows that the summer break will have given everyone on the grid a chance to reset and rethink as they head into the second half of the season.
“We are prepared to hopefully be in a fight with Mercedes, but also prepared that Ferrari might join in on the action as well,” he insisted, “This is going to be an interesting weekend, but I do think, if I am happy with the car then we will be very competitive. However, I don't want to forget Ferrari. They are going to still be there. We've got the upper hand on them in the last few races, but there will still be some races where they turn it on as well.
“This one I think we will be quite close with them. At Monza, they should be the favourite to beat us then, coming to Singapore and Suzuka, on paper those should favour us more. We are talking about it, but I am not thinking about it too much. I am not looking that far ahead. We will take races as they come and, if we get the most out of our car, we can get ahead of them, but I am not going to count them out.... Seb [Vettel] can turn it on pretty well, and Kimi [Raikkonen] on his day as well.”
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And, even if Red Bull has the upper hand, Monaco has already shown Ricciardo that nothing can be taken for granted.
“To be honest, out of my three wins, [Belgium] was the one that was probably most comfortable but, in general, to win an F1 race, a lot needs to go well and needs to go your way,” he noted, “You could drive the perfect weekend, but there are other scenarios, like Monaco for example. The whole day needs to work for you.
“It's never easy anywhere but, here, it's a long lap. It doesn't look like it this weekend, but the weather can normally play a part, so we'll see. The track's so long, you've got such a long straight and then you get to the Bus Stop and, the way the tyres are these days, it's very easy to lock a brake or tyre, and, like I did in Canada, my tyre was finished and I had to do an extra pit stop.
“You could be leading, but the smallest mistake like that can cost you a race. The supersoft [Pirelli] is going to be very interesting... The soft and medium will be okay, but the supersoft, we will see if it last a lap. We might have to manage it around the lap. We will see. It's never easy, but I'll try make it look easy on Sunday!”
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