Daniel Ricciardo says his hard work behind the scenes to get to grips with his McLaren car is beginning to pay off.
The Australian had a solid hit out in Friday night’s (AEST) practice runs ahead of Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, showing good speed to finish fifth fastest in the opening session before sliding to 13th overall.
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Red Bull’s Sergio Perez led the time charts in the second practice session with a time of 1:42:115, in front of Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
While there weren’t any grid positions up for grabs, it undoubtedly represents a marked shift for Ricciardo after an abysmal showing at one of his favourite races, the Monaco Grand Prix.
The West Australian has spoken multiple times this year about his battle to adapt to a new car in 2021, referencing issues with the brakes and a general uncertainty over how best to tame his latest machine.
Ricciardo is feeling better already in Baku (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP).Source:AFP
However, things are looking brighter after his latest stint behind the wheel. The extra effort Ricciardo has put in away from the track has given him a better “understanding of the car” and it started to show dividends in Baku.
“I did quite a bit of work from Monaco into this race and spent a few days in the simulator and I think the work has paid off,” he said. “I think the understanding of the car (has improved), everything feels as expected.
“So everything feels as expected, and I’ve just got to now execute what I know I can do and just put it all together.
“It was not too bad. It was a fairly productive day. The afternoon was a bit messy, there was virtual safety cars and we didn’t hit the lap on the softs, so there is a bit more there.”
But falling down the chart in the second session — despite finishing with a marginally faster time of 1:43:298 — was not what Ricciardo was hoping to achieve.
The 31-year-old was optimistic he will be able to produce a good result in qualifying and on race day.
“It is quite close. A few tenths gets us up into about P6 or P7 probably,” he said.
“But it was better, a better day. (We will do) a bit of work tonight but I think it’s going to be a pretty close weekend.
“There are a lot of teams that can be within a few tenths of each other. Just find a few tenths for tomorrow and we should be in a good spot.
“If you get lucky it can give you literally half a second. I haven’t thought that far ahead but it is massively efficient here if you can get it right.”
Ricciardo is looking to bounce back from a poor showing in Monaco (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images).Source:Getty Images
Ricciardo’s teammate Lando Norris had a sobering message for McLaren, suggesting there is a clear gap between them and the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari.
“I think it looks very close between us, AlphaTauri, Renault (Alpines) and so on,” said Norris, who was eighth-fastest in practice.
“Ferrari and Red Bull look quite a long way ahead of us, so it’s going to be tough. Just getting into Q3’s going to be the main target and see what we can do from there.
“I think we’re looking alright.
“We were definitely a bit more competitive in FP1 than FP2, so I don’t know if it’s because of the temperatures or the track conditions that we suffered a little bit more in P2.
“But things are good. I think the car feels pretty good. I’m quite confident in the car, just some things to improve. We’re there or thereabouts but not quite where we want to be.”
Norris’ warning comes after his ex-teammate Carlos Sainz predicted Norris could lead McLaren to the top of the F1 standings in the next few years.
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