Daniel Ricciardo was in an upbeat mood at the conclusion of Formula One’s pre-testing period as he bids to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 campaign.
Ricciardo’s high-profile switch from Red Bull to Renault did not work out as planned in 2019, the Australian finishing ninth in the world championship.
It was a far cry from the third-placed finishes Ricciardo recorded with Red Bull in 2014 and 2016, but the new season looks promising for the West Australian.
The 30-year-old was third quickest in two of the six testing days in Barcelona, and he consistently displayed good speed in Spain, a good sign before the upcoming Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
Speaking after his final testing session on Saturday (AEDT), Ricciardo said: “I’m pretty happy with my running today and finishing top of the timesheets in the morning session was a bonus, so it’s a nice way to round off pre-season testing.
“But it is testing, so I’m not getting overly excited about it … looking back at the week as a whole, it has been positive for us.
“We’ve improved the overall balance of the car, worked through some set-up changes and our reliability has been strong.
“I believe we’ve cranked up more kilometres on the engine tests back at Viry [Viry-Chatillon factory] than we’ve ever had before.
“So this, combined with our results over the two tests, are ultimately encouraging signs ahead of the start of the season in Australia.”
Ricciardo’s new teammate, Esteban Ocon, finished in the top eight on four of the six testing days – another good sign for the speed of Renault’s new RS20 car.
‘Very pleased with the reliability’ – Renault
Key to Ricciardo enjoying an improved 2020 is the reliability of his car.
Renault is not expected to consistently challenge the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but it hopes to return to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship in what looms as an exciting ‘Best of the Rest’ race.
McLaren took fourth last year, while Racing Point is expected to improve in 2020 and Toro Rosso could be there or thereabouts.
Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul said he and his colleagues left testing “feeling content with our work”.
“The RS20 ran well and pretty much as we expected, courtesy of the progress made by [the teams at] Enstone and Viry over the winter to ensure all parts were delivered to the track to a high standard and in good time,” he said.
“This preparation meant we were well placed to complete all major test items with little fault over the two weeks … we can be very pleased with the reliability of the engine with one power unit being used for each us and our customer, McLaren, throughout the six days.
“Our absolute performance level is in line with our expectations … as for our competitiveness level relative to a very competitive midfield, it is right now very difficult to assess, but we look forward to racing again.”
The Ferrari link
Like many Formula 1 drivers, Ricciardo is uncontracted for the 2021 season, signing a two-year deal with Renault when he joined.
After being asked if he would talk to Ferrari if it inquired about his services, Ricciardo told media last month he was “answering all calls”.
He said last week that his preference was to stay at Renault, though.
“I will answer [Ferrari’s] calls for sure, but I most importantly want this to work [at Renault],” he said.
“I don’t want it to feel like I’ve just come to Renault, got away from Red Bull and then I’m looking for next best thing [at another team].
“I really want to make this happen and make it work, and obviously the step to that is getting more out of this year than we did last year, and hopefully getting enough out of it that the journey continues beyond my two-year contract.
“That’s the, let’s say, ideal scenario.”
The season-opening Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix runs from March 12 to 15 at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.