Local Formula One hope Daniel Ricciardo admits he’ll need some help from the notoriously fickle Melbourne weather if he’s to pilot his Red Bull Racing car to a podium finish in Sunday’s race.
Ricciardo finished sixth in last year’s Australian Grand Prix and managed just two podium finishes for the entire season in his underpowered machine.
While he’s pleased with Red Bull’s latest testing results, Ricciardo says Mercedes are still the team to beat though a podium finish isn’t out of the question for him.
If the rain comes, he says, it will bring reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg back to the field at the Albert Park circuit.
“They will be hard to beat this weekend for sure but the good thing about Melbourne is that you never know with the weather … a bit of rain could stir things up,” Ricciardo said.
“Ideally this year we’ll get back in the winner’s column and get at least one victory but podiums are a start.
“And if I could choose to be on any podium it would be in Melbourne.”
Rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday’s qualifying sessions but is expected to clear for Sunday’s race.
Ricciardo has modest expectations of his car on the eve of his third season with Red Bull as the team awaits updates to their Renault engines.
But the Perth-born driver is fit and raring to go, having lost 3.5kg on team orders to accommodate changes to the set up of his car.
The 26-year-old said he was humbled to hear compatriot and former Red Bull driver Mark Webber’s recent assertion he had the talent to win a Formula One world title before his career was over.
But it’s a goal that will have to wait until at least 2017 when rule changes are expected to level the playing field.
“This year, to be honest, it’s unrealistic – I’d love to say that it’s realistic but the fact is Mercedes, in normal circumstances, they’ll probably win most races,” Ricciardo said.
“At least for the first few races, we’re not really going to be in touch with them unless we get some rain or something else goes our way.
“I think the world title will probably, after five or six races, already be out of reach.
“We’re not quite there yet … but I think certainly in the second half of the year we should be able to get a lot closer.”