Daniel Ricciardo is confident Red Bull will be “much closer” to Formula 1 rivals Mercedes in 2018, having set the fastest time of pre-season testing at Barcelona

The Australian posted the fastest ever time around the Circuit de Catalunya on the second day of the final pre-season test with a 1m18.047s set on Pirelli’s fastest compound - the hypersoft - 0.353s clear of Lewis Hamilton’s ultrasoft-shod Mercedes.

While Ricciardo - who enjoyed a strong day of mileage having completed 165 laps - is refusing to get carried away with lap times at this stage, he is certain Red Bull’s RB14 is more competitive than its predecessor as the Milton Keynes-based squad bids to put in a significant title challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari. 

“We are getting there,” Ricciardo said after topping the timesheets on Wednesday. “The Mercs still look pretty quick - there are a few tenths in the tyres and I guess their qualifying mode, when they decided to use it, will probably be a bit more than ours as well. 

“I think that they still have a bit more on the rest, but it is not too bad. We are looking pretty good. Not really sure about Ferrari at the moment, but we are in a decent place. 

“We made some good changes to the car today, so I think we are better than we were 12 months ago, let’s say that much. Long runs, short runs, I think we are in the ballpark, which is positive.”

Red Bull is hoping to hit the ground running this season, following a mixed campaign last year that included three race wins but was also hindered by a series of reliability problems.

And Ricciardo believes his team has built upon its strengths to produce a competitive overall package that he hopes can compete with the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari on a regular basis in 2018. 

“We still have some weaknesses, but I think our strengths are good, so we just now work on a few of the weaknesses. I feel the balance is similar to how it is last year, but I feel where our car was good last year I feel we’ve made that even better, so our strengths have become stronger.

“That is where we are a bit closer than we were 12 months ago. In the last sector the car feels quite strong, so this is a good base for now. We will still work on a few weaknesses but generally it does not feel too bad.”

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