McLaren looked strong in last week’s Bahrain test, and many thought that the orange car could have been a place or two higher than sixth. Of course it’s all smoke and mirrors until qualifying proper, so we finally got our first real handle on where everyone stands.
“I think this qualifying is probably a pretty good representation of I guess F1 at the moment,” said Ricciardo. “It looked like Red Bull did make a step, or obviously at least Max [Verstappen]. I’m not sure if he’ll have that gap on Mercedes the whole year, but certainly around here has been hooked up. I think those two teams will have that gap, but after that?
“After the test it looked like it was AlphaTauri, Ferrari, us – I think it was us three looking pretty much inseparable. And then maybe only a tenth or two back to everyone else. And it looks somewhat like that. Kind of as expected in our minds, but you never know. I think it’s going to shape up to be pretty awesome this year.
“I think quali today was a sign of things to come. Personally I’m happy to obviously have had a decent Q3 and I think if you look at it, even though I’m experienced, it still takes time I think to really find the limit of a car.
“And I think the level now is high, with everyone on the grid and quite familiar with these cars. You look at Sainz and Perez and that, obviously they are a little bit further from their team-mates. I’m certainly not saying I know it all yet, or I have it all yet, but I’m certainly happy with my start. So I’ll try and just get better from here.”
“We can’t get carried away but we’re on the front foot”
As noted modern F1 cars are more complex beasts than most of us can imagine. They behave differently on track, they have different systems, the brakes and power steering systems feel different. It simply takes time.
“I’m still getting there. I feel I definitely made a step in quali, and even just as far as like committing on the brakes and throwing the car in, like let’s say driving with a bit more confidence, I had that.
“But probably still knowing exactly what I want in this car, I can’t say I’m really set on that yet. I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe a little bit more above the middle, but I probably don’t know what I like in this car as yet as a real baseline.”
Ricciardo couldn’t have got off to a much better start at his new home. Everyone in the team already knows that the right decision was made when a replacement was needed for the Ferrari-bound Sainz.
“Obviously we can’t get carried away. But I certainly feel like starting on the front foot just helps. Not only let’s say confidence, but probably confidence in the team, that they’re like, ‘Alright this is good, we got someone to obviously try and help us build this team and get it that step closer.’
“I certainly don’t think I’m there yet, and it’s probably going to take a few more races, but we’re on the front foot, let’s say that.
“I certainly feel good about it. The last few months the team have worked me I’d say pretty hard, probably harder than I’ve worked before! I wouldn’t say they’ve wasted my time. I think just their attention to detail, and I think their drive as a team, to want to keep getting better. It sounds so simple, but just what I’ve seen, has been really impressive. So it’s a good atmosphere.”