DANIEL Ricciardo and Red Bull are confident they have a race-winning car at the Azerbaijan GP, even if Mercedes and Ferrari close their deficit in Saturday’s qualifying session.
Ricciardo posted the fastest time in Practice Two on Friday with a 1:42.795 with teammate Max Verstappen just a tenth slower.
Kimi Raikkonen split the two Red Bulls to finish just six-hundredths of a second off Ricciardo’s benchmark — though the Finn’s time was aided by receiving a tow along the Baku street circuit’s long start-finish straight — while both Mercedes cars were over seven tenths down on the best time.
LIVE stream the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Exclusively Live & Ad-break free during racing on FOX SPORTS. Get your free 2-week Foxtel Now trial & start watching in minutes. SIGN UP NOW >
Ricciardo is seeking back-to-back wins after victory in China last time out and, while the Australian concedes Red Bull may see their advantage wiped out when Mercedes and Ferrari turn up their engines on Saturday, he expects to be firmly in the victory hunt on race day.
“There are a few of us that are going to be close, I certainly feel like I’m up there,” Ricciardo told Sky Sports F1.
“I feel like I’m driving well and I felt comfortable out there today. That’s the important thing with a street circuit, you want that comfort in yourself and the car.
“Our car in the tight stuff is really good. Sector two I felt comfortable all day — that was really strong for us.
“As always in qualifying, I think the others will turn it up a bit more so I think we’ll probably lose out a bit more in sectors one and three, but sector two will be the key for us.”
He added: “Even if we can’t qualify on the front row then I think the race car will be strong.”
Red Bull have shown strong long-run pace all season and that continued in Baku with Verstappen leading the way and both drivers matching the pace shown by Ferrari, while Mercedes were a second slower on average on the ultra-soft tyre.
Verstappen’s shared his teammate’s confidence after recovering from a spin into the barriers in Practice One and believes Red Bull also have more to deliver over the remainder of the weekend.
“We look quick. Of course, you always want to improve and we know that in qualifying they have these power modes so they will be even closer,” the Dutchman said.
“But then, on the other hand, we still have a bit as well and this track is a lot about confidence, so if you feel really good in the car you can get the job done as well.”
HAMILTON: MERCEDES NOT QUICK ENOUGH
Valtteri Bottas had pipped Ricciardo to the fastest time in Practice One, but it was another difficult day for the reigning world champions as they failed to get near their rivals on one-lap or long run pace in the afternoon.
Post-Practice Two, team boss Toto Wolff was pictured engaged in a pit-lane debrief with senior team personnel and Lewis Hamilton admitted the Silver Arrows were behind Red Bull and Ferrari.
“I never have expectations so I go into it a bit blind hoping that we will be at the front, but I did anticipate it would be very close from the previous race experiences,” said Hamilton.
“It’s been a smooth day, we got through everything we needed and I did all the laps with not many mistakes and lots of information. But we are not quick enough, Red Bull’s definitely quite a bit ahead and I couldn’t have matched their time today. So we’ve got some work to do.”
Asked which one of Red Bull and Ferrari represented their biggest threat, Hamilton replied: “It’s definitely both. They are both currently ahead still, as they were in the last race, but more so today. Red Bull appears to have picked up quite a bit of pace, so we shall see.
“So we’ve got some work to do. I’m going to be knocking on the doors of all the engineers overnight, so that we can hopefully make the right changes.”
Bottas added: “It’s not an easy car to drive at the moment, we have some work to do with the balance. But if we get everything right, the car is quick.”
VETTEL NOT WORRIED BY FRIDAY STRUGGLES
Sebastian Vettel arrived in Azerbaijan with a nine-point advantage over Hamilton at the top of the championship standings but the German struggled on Friday as he failed to challenge the top of the time sheet in either practice session.
Having been only 10th in Practice One, Vettel was then 11th in the second session and had to use the run-off areas on three separate occasions as he failed to nail a clean qualifying simulation.
But the four-time world champion is unconcerned by his difficult start to the weekend and insisted he was finding his groove by the end of the day.
“It is a tricky circuit but it’s tricky for all of us. I struggled a little bit more than the others,” Vettel said.
“But I’m not too worried, towards the end I had a good read and am quite happy. We can improve for tomorrow.”
Story originally appeared on Sky Sports and is reproduced with permission.