Aussie ace Daniel Ricciardo is enjoying the fact his Red Bull car is faster than last year but whether it’s quick enough to catch Mercedes in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix remains a tantalising question.
Ricciardo finished fourth on the Albert Park street circuit last year, and third in the Formula One overall title standings behind Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and now-retired champion Nico Rosberg.
The 27-year-old said on Wednesday that winter testing at Red Bull, alongside teen prodigy teammate Max Verstappen, had been the best he’d been involved with and he hoped this could finally be his year.
His Red Bull was less than half a second behind the pace-setting Mercedes in testing, Ricciardo said, but only racing would provide a true comparison.
“It’s hard to know, testing is never really a clear picture,” Ricciardo said on Wednesday.
“I expect Ferrari and Mercedes to be quick and I hope we can be with them as well.
“We’re coming here pretty confident.”
While Rosberg took line honours in Melbourne last year, an overhaul in F1 aerodynamics with wider tyres and bodywork has made the cars faster and physically harder to drive.
After posting the fastest lap time there in 2016, Ricciardo could threaten Michael Schumacher’s 2004 Albert Park lap record.
Ricciardo said his car was doing close to 40km/h faster through the corners of their Barcelona testing.
“We’ve gone from 220km to 260 so that’s a big difference and that’s more fun for sure,” he said.
“I think as a spectator now when you’re paying money to see a race and you see us corner at these speeds, you’re getting more for your money as well.”
The West Australian said driving the new cars had proved more physically draining, although he felt that would come into play more in hotter conditions later in the year.
Ricciardo said he was satisfied with his performance in 2016 but that didn’t mean he didn’t have the hunger to be crowned world champion.
“I will work hard and prepare for it to happen but last year I didn’t win the title and I was still very happy with the year.
“I got my first pole and got back on the top step.
“For me to perform at my best I think I will be happy. I would be very happy with the world title.”