Daniel Ricciardo predicts to be competing closely against Mercedes and hasn't ruled out the threat of Ferrari at Suzuka despite slipping down the running order after having to abort his qualifying simulation.
Fresh from his win at Sepang, Ricciardo says he enjoyed a productive Friday practice having quickly got up to speed and found a positive balance and set-up with his RB12.
RESULTS: Japanese Grand Prix – Free practice results (2)
Having produced impressive pace on long runs using the harder compounds the Australia is confident the speed will bring Red Bull closer to the front-running Mercedes over a race distance.
Ricciardo says he wasn't too concerned about losing his qualifying run due to a Virtual Safety Car period midway through FP2 to recover Esteban Gutierrez's stricken Haas car from the track, which saw him finish FP2 down in 12th.
“It was a pretty good day, a pretty good afternoon,” Ricciardo said. “We made some improvements from this morning, so the lap that we had to abort was probably going to be in the 32s, so probably just behind Kimi's time [P3, 1m 32.573s].
“Ferrari looked pretty strong but we are sort of close enough for today, so that was okay. Then the long run seemed pretty solid at the end there. We finished on the hard tyre and that seemed pretty decent, so it is good to be back on this circuit.”
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Assessing the final five races, Ricciardo predicts the trend of Red Bull closing in on Mercedes to continue for the remainder of the campaign but doesn't feel Ferrari can be counted out from challenging either.
“I expect the rest of the season to be tighter,” he said. “Here, if we get the car hooked up in qualifying we can be strong and can be close to Mercedes and hopefully ahead of Ferrari. But Kimi's time was solid today. Tomorrow we can squeeze a bit more out of it, but we definitely have a challenge. The top three teams will be going hammer and tong the rest of the year."
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