Ricciardo identifies major Red Bull correction
RED Bull remain hopeful they will be a match for Mercedes and Ferrari at the start of F1 2018 despite a difficult Australian Grand Prix.
While Daniel Ricciardo was stuck on the back foot all weekend after being on the receiving end of a controversial grid penalty, Max Verstappen was better placed before spinning after being passed off the line by Haas' Kevin Magnussen.
But Ricciardo recovered to finish fourth and set the fastest lap of the season-opener, and he felt this proved Red Bull arguably had the quickest car of the three leading teams despite Sebastian Vettel's victory.
"I think we're really close to Ferrari's pace," the Australian said after his joint-best result at his home race.
"We were definitely one of, if not the quickest car on track today.
"Hopefully that's representative moving forward, I think we've still got to find pace on one lap but the race pace is good."
Ricciardo showed great speed following the Safety Car and managed to push Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen close for what would have been a maiden podium in Melbourne, but just couldn't execute a final pass.
"I obviously tried to do all I could with Kimi," he said.
"It's a tight track, it is tricky to overtake but we set the fastest lap and that's really good signs for things to come in the next few weeks."
Red Bull's race-one speed is a far-cry from their start to the season last year, when they were around a second-a-lap off Mercedes and Ferrari at Albert Park.
And even Verstappen, who was frustrated at finishing sixth behind Fernando Alonso's McLaren, could take solace from the improvements.
"As soon as we were in clean air the pace was good," he said.
"We don't need to worry, we just need to focus on getting a clean qualifying and then in the race everything should sort itself out."
Verstappen explained that he was compromised by damage to his car in the opening laps, which affected his RB14's balance and was the reason for his spin.
"Suddenly I had a lot of issues with the car, balance problems, and we found out after four or five laps something broke off the car," he added.
"All the time in the middle of the corner I was losing a lot of grip and at one point I got caught out at Turn One and spun.
"It's not ideal but luckily with the 360 I didn't lose too many positions. After that you are in the hunt but you can't overtake on this track so it's a bit of a shame.
"With the circumstances we were in, the damage we had, we still scored some points."
Meanwhile Fernando Alonso has revealed McLaren's next target is catching Red Bull after his fifth on Sunday led home a double-points finish for the team.
In McLaren's first race with their new Renault power units, Alonso recorded his joint-best result since rejoining the team in 2015 while Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth.
Alonso took advantage of the Virtual Safety Car period to gain places through his pit stop phase and then held off Verstappen through the final 20 laps at Albert Park.
"It is the first race with this [McLaren-Renault] combination so a lot more to come and hopefully from Bahrain we will see another step forward and Red Bull will be the next target," Alonso said.
"There is a lot of potential in the car but still to be unlocked."
The two-time world champion is also confident McLaren can put more pressure on the front-runners in upcoming races, having finished 20 seconds behind Ricciardo.
"Right now [Red Bull] are still clearly ahead of us and are in that exclusive group of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull," he said.
"McLaren is willing to enter that group and I think in the coming races we will forget the middle group and we look forward to those privilege three top teams."
Alonso's fifth-place finish, from starting 10th on the grid, was assisted by both Haas cars suffering retirements with loose wheels.
But the Spaniard said he expected to be able to challenge for the top five from the start given McLaren's better pace on long runs compared to their single-lap form.
"It was more or less expected to be honest. We knew we had a strong race pace and better than Qualifying. We capitalised on some of the problems that others had," he saidd.
"I'm happy, it was great work from the team, the integration of our power unit in two or three months and we redesigned some of the car last winter.
"Now we are here, both cars in the points, fifth place so happy and a good starting point."
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier also hinted the team had run conservatively in Melbourne given the team's reliability issues over the winter.
"We took advantage of anything today. We know we have more pace in the car which we can unlock in the future but we could have unlocked it as well this weekend," Boullier said.