MELBOURNE, Australia, Mar 13 – Daniel Ricciardo says he’s growing happier by the day at new team Renault, but warned home fans in Melbourne this week not to expect fireworks from their Formula One hero, at least not yet.
The seven-time grand prix winner stunned the paddock by ditching Red Bull after five years for a “fresh start” and said he was raring to go for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at the weekend.
“We had a good winter test, I’m growing happier every time I step into the car and the first race will be especially exciting,” said the Perth-born Ricciardo, whose contract with Renault is reportedly worth almost three times what he was getting at Red Bull.
“I feel comfortable within the team. Walking through the garage, stepping into the car all feels cool and real now.”
Ninth in the constructors’ championship on their return as a team to Formula One in 2016 after taking over Lotus, Renault improved to sixth in 2017 and were fourth last season.
But Ricciardo is cautious about the team’s chances of making inroads into the dominance of the top three — Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
– ‘We’re chipping away’ –
“There’s going to be a lot of expectation and attention on us, but we’re remaining realistic with what we have set out to achieve,” he said.
“That doesn’t deter from the fact we’ll be giving it our best shot. The midfield will be close, but we’re chipping away towards closing the gap to the top. The first race is the first chapter on this journey.”
His partner this year is dependable German Nico Hulkenberg, and team managing director Cyril Abiteboul said he was excited by the prospect of having two such experienced drivers in the black and yellow RS19.
“We have a new car that has shown potential in Barcelona (testing). The power unit has made progress and our driver line-up of Daniel and Nico is perhaps the strongest on the grid,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to seeing them showcasing their experience and talent on the track. The added momentum of the Daniel-Nico partnership brings confidence to the team this season.”
Ricciardo said he and Hulkenberg were “on the same page” and fans were likely to see him deploying his renowned overtaking skills more often.
“The likelihood of starting on the front row is slim so the fact that there’s going to be more cars start in front of me is probably higher and more cars to get through,” he told the Melbourne Herald Sun.
“You will probably see more of the Daniel Ricciardo that you’re used to. That will only help me in this position now and there’s no reason for me to hold back.”