Daniel Ricciardo says making Melbourne chequered flag crucial for struggling Red Bull
Team haven't yet "really proved to ourselves" car can last race distance
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 12/03/14 3:47pm
Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that simply finishing the season-opening Australian GP represents a "big target" for Red Bull with the World Champions still needing to prove to themselves that their troubled RB10 can complete an interrupted race distance.
After enduring the most challenging of winters with their new Renault-powered challenger, the quadruple title winners, for the first time in recent memory, head to Albert Park not among the favourites for victory with their odds having drifted to 10/1 in recent days.
With the team completing a third of the testing mileage of pre-season favourites Mercedes, Ricciardo, who makes his race weekend debut for Red Bull, acknowledged that racking up the 58-lap distance that makes up the Australian GP on Sunday would allow the team to unlock plenty of learning about the car.
"It would be positive just to finish," the Australian admitted to Sky Sports News ahead of his home GP.
"Obviously we don't want to finish 15th but I think we're going to learn a lot from finishing full stop, whether it's a podium or 15th.
"There's a lot to learn about the car and each lap we do we are learning so much more. So in that respect long term it's going to help us a lot to finish, so that is a big target for this weekend."
Whereas numerous teams completed race simulations during the final two weeks of testing, Daniel Ricciardo's 20-lap stint on his final day in the car represented the RB10's longest run to date - just over a third of the Melbourne race distance.
And the driver has now conceded: "We haven't really proved to ourselves yet if we can do 60-odd consecutive laps. Until we do it we don't really know if we can."
Speaking at the final test in Bahrain, Red Bull chief Christian Horner suggested the World Champions were "ten days behind" the early 2014 front-runners in terms of preparation for Melbourne. Ricciardo is hopeful they have used the subsequent fortnight to make up for some of that lost time.
"It's probably a fair estimation," he added.
Ricciardo in the RB10 during testing
"We are a bit behind definitely but I know the team would have worked really hard in the build up to the race in the last few weeks. How much we've caught up we don't know - I think we're going to find out pretty much on track. The rest is just guessing."
The former Toro Rosso driver admitted it would be no surprise to see the outfits with Mercedes engines leading the way in the opening weekend and it was up to Red Bull to now produce a faster rate of relative improvement.
"In general it's fair to say that the Mercedes team and Mercedes-powered cars were stronger than everyone else. They were racking up the most laps per day in general and they were normally towards the top of the timesheets," Ricciardo recounted.
"That was the reality and coming into the first race you would assume that would still be the case, even though obviously we're working really hard. I think we still probably need a little bit more time to get up to that level but hopefully they don't get too much quicker and we can close the gap quicker than they keep pushing it apart."
While Red Bull's testing struggles suggest Ricciardo's maiden race weekend for the World Champions looks likely to take place in the midfield pack at best, the 24-year-old says the pressure on his shoulders to perform is unchanged - particularly with the challenge of trying to beat Sebastian Vettel in the sister car present.
"I guess because the team's had so much success the last years it was like 'yeah, they'll come out and be fighting for a win in Melbourne'" Ricciardo said about his initial pre-2014 expectations after being promoted from Toro Rosso.
"Not that we're coming into the race now with less pressure, I'm still expecting a lot from myself and I've still got Seb alongside me who I'd love to outqualify and love to outrace. So whoever we're fighting with wherever we're fighting, whether it's for a podium or tenth place, I'm still not going to change my approach and I'm still going to take the weekend very seriously."