By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) – Monaco has been good to Daniel Ricciardo and the Australian believes Sunday’s showcase race could provide another highlight, even if a repeat of last year’s heroics looks out of the question.
The 29-year-old has had just one scoring finish in five grands prix since he moved from Red Bull to Renault at the end of 2018, with his best result a seventh place in China last month.
Monaco is special — a throwback whose tight, metal-fenced streets demand absolute precision and balance — and a place where a Formula One driver’s talent can shine.
“I’ve done it before so it’s familiar territory. I’m really curious actually to see how I perform this year in Monaco,” Ricciardo, last year’s winner from pole position, told Reuters.
“The Red Bull was a great car but I always feel like Monaco is a track where, if you’re comfortable with the circuit and the walls and all that and have the confidence, you can leapfrog maybe your car’s position further up.
“We’ll see how far up we can get. I think a win is a stretch,” he added, smiling at the understatement. “But I think we can get a good result. Maybe our best of the year. We’ll see.”
Mercedes have won all five races to date in one-two formation, with five times world champion Lewis Hamilton on top of the standings, and will take some beating in the principality.
Ferrari’s local hero Charles Leclerc, racing the red car at home for the first time, is sure to be fired up, while German team mate Sebastian Vettel finished second last year after winning in 2017.
Former champions Renault, fourth overall at the end of last season, are currently eighth.
Track position, and qualifying, will be crucial and every practice lap builds up to nailing that flying lap on Saturday afternoon.
Ricciardo has yet to line up higher than seventh — also in China — in 2019. He has been 10th on the grid twice and qualified 13th in the latest race in Spain.
Two of his three career pole positions have been in Monaco, however.
“Monaco… stands out where you can visibly see a driver that is having a good time, driving the car around there, and the ones who are lacking that enjoyment or that confidence,” said the Australian.
“It’s a place where you can see the driver’s expressions inside the helmet by watching the way they are attacking the circuit. That’s what’s so special about that place. I don’t think any other track shows that.
“The first thing I want to do with this car is get comfortable with it; have enough confidence jumping around on the kerbs, getting close to the walls, that the car is going to stick where I want it to.
“And then I know I’ll be able to drive with a happiness that is going to give me that confidence to put it further up the grid.”
That confidence, for a driver famed for his bold overtaking moves, has been less than 100% this season and particularly in the braking areas.
“I’m still searching for a more confident level. I’m jumping in the car with confidence but instead of being a nine and a half out of 10, I want to be a 10. And I want to know I can execute a 10,” he said.
Ricciardo recognised there was pressure to perform with Renault, but said that was no different at Red Bull with Max Verstappen as a team mate.
“Definitely in a new environment you want to start strong and give everyone that confidence and reassurance that you’re the best guy to fill the seat,” he added.
“There is a pressure, but more than anyone it’s me putting that on myself.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)