Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo is keen to make a promising start to the new season.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo is keen to make a promising start to the new season.

Ricciardo to hijack podium if good enough

DANIEL Ricciardo has cut back his media and promotional commitments ahead of next weekend's Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix as he bids for a stronger start to the new season.

Ricciardo heads to Melbourne with good reason to smile, having extracted the maximum from his RS20 car in Barcelona during pre-season testing - where he set the third-fastest lap time (1min16.276sec) and pipped Ferrari's Charles Leclerc on the same C5 tyre, Pirelli's softest compound.

But the Perth-born racer is desperate not to repeat last year's nightmare home event - in which he was "worked to the ground" with commitments and then retired embarrassingly from his first race with Renault.

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His front wing was destroyed on lap one in a bizarre clash with a gutter as he attempted to pass Racing Point's Sergio Pérez on the grass.

"At some point, the racing has to be more important," Ricciardo said.

"Melbourne is one of the greatest cities in the world. It really is, and I love it. And I want to be able to enjoy it. And, unfortunately, I haven't been, so I want to change it. Your home grand prix should be your favourite one of the year."

There's no doubt 2020 is a critical year for Ricciardo, with the Monaco-based racer out of contract at the end of this season.

But while he's admitted that he will answer Ferrari's calls should Sebastian Vettel decide to retire, the Australian is determined to prove the tsunami of doubters wrong and take Renault back to the top despite big-budget rival Mercedes dominating since 2014.

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo crashes at the start of the Australian Grand Prix last year.
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo crashes at the start of the Australian Grand Prix last year.

The French marque is equally driven to retain Ricciardo beyond his current two-year contract, into the sport's new era from 2021. But knows it must prove it's on the right path to securing its first world championship since 2006.

"There are a lot of things that we don't have in our hands," said Alain Prost, a four-time F1 World Champion and Renault's special adviser.

"The only thing we have to do is to get the best team possible, the best car possible, the best vision for the future to show to Daniel that he can stay with us and be a competitive driver with a competitive car."

Ricciardo is determined to make a promising start to the new season.
Ricciardo is determined to make a promising start to the new season.

To keep the "Honey Badger", Renault has to do in 2020 what it originally promised last year - secure fourth in the constructors' standings and close the gap to the sport's top teams - before its dreams were wrecked with early reliability issues that left it fifth at season's end.

Ricciardo, though, is eyeing a podium - just one - and believes it's possible if the French squad can make the same performance jump Renault's customer team McLaren did last year to finish fourth in the standings as F1's "best of the rest," with Carlos Sainz earning a maiden rostrum visit in Brazil.

"If we could do that, that would put us around at least one race sniffing for a podium," said Ricciardo, whose best result last year was fourth at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Ricciardo signs autographs and takes selfies with fans at Albert Park last year.
Ricciardo signs autographs and takes selfies with fans at Albert Park last year.
"It was also the objective when I signed with the team, that by 2020 we want to be hopefully spraying a bottle of champagne. I don't want to set the expectation high, but I want to set the target high and I don't want to back away from that because it's important to keep the guys motivated. And just because (in 2019) maybe we underachieved for the most part, I don't want them to feel that we don't belong where we think we should be."

Of course, should he secure third in Melbourne next weekend, Ricciardo would not hold back celebrating the result he's worked so hard to earn. The 30-year-old admitted it's high-time for a shoey.

"Absolutely. It's been too long not to," he said. "At Red Bull Racing I started to say I'd only do it with a win, but (with) my next podium, period - there will be a shoey!"


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