By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Daniel Ricciardo will raise plenty of cheers if he beats his former Red Bull team mates in Melbourne next week but the new Renault driver will not be throwing any toys out of the pram if the opposite happens.
The Australian’s move to the French manufacturer team at the end of last year was a long term play for the Perth native, a home hero now in yellow overalls ahead of the season-opening race.
“I was aware when I signed the deal here that it was very realistic that, at least come Melbourne, they (Red Bull) are going to be in front,” said Ricciardo when asked about the immediate prospects.
“Because I in a way expect it, it’s not going to be a shock or anything like that.
“I’m not going to be bitter if they beat us in Melbourne. I feel now we’re still on a bit of a different journey,” added the 29-year-old.
Former champions Renault, who won titles with Fernando Alonso in 2005-06 and powered Red Bull and their German driver Sebastian Vettel to four double titles in a row between 2010-2013, were fourth overall last season.
Red Bull were third behind champions Mercedes and Ferrari, with Ricciardo and Max Verstappen each winning two races and have since switched to Honda engines.
The evidence from testing suggested Honda had got on top of the performance and reliability problems that have plagued them in the past.
“I know probably a lot of people think ‘Ah, if he were to beat Red Bull how good would that be? Sticking it to them’. But it’s honestly not like that. If we could overcome any of those top three I’d be stoked,” said Ricciardo.
“Seeing what I’ve seen so far (at Renault) I think there’s enough resources to get into that world. So I don’t think that’s unattainable for us.
“It might not be this year, but it’s not a permanent handicap, so to speak.”
RUNNINGFROM A FIGHT
Had Ricciardo stayed at Red Bull, and they were clear about wanting him to, he would have continued to fight for star billing with Verstappen, the 21-year-old Dutch driver considered a future champion.
The likeable Australian sees himself in a similar light but risked being considered increasingly as a number two alongside the favoured son.
Ricciardo told reporters before the start of testing that his decision to leave was due to a ‘kaleidoscope’ of different pieces, however.
There was a desire to repeat Lewis Hamilton’s success in recognising the potential of a major manufacturer when he moved from McLaren to Mercedes and also annoyance at how Red Bull treated him after an incident in Baku last season.
The team held both Ricciardo and Verstappen equally to blame for a collision that the Australian still holds was mainly Verstappen’s fault.
“We both got a talking to, putting it politely. But in my eyes I guess the incident itself I felt I was not really in the wrong,” he said. “I guess the way it was handled at the time didn’t sit too well with me.”
Team boss Christian Horner suggested Ricciardo was “running from a fight” in leaving but the Perth driver, whose new German team mate Nico Hulkenberg has yet to stand on the podium in 156 starts, denied that.
“I love a good fight,” he said. “It wasn’t about Max. I can understand why they’d say that, but it’s wrong.”
Ricciardo said the main aim for the season ahead was simply to make progress, for the team to continue on an upward trajectory.
“As long as we make inroads, that’s got to be a pretty successful year,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)