After the first few pre-season tests in Jerez and Bahrain, many wrote off Red Bull Racing’s chances for the upcoming Australian Grand Prix, some even for the 2014 Formula 1 season.

A problem with their Renault power unit overheating saw them barely leave the pit lane, let alone complete a lap in the first test at Jerez. They managed to get some good running in the last couple of days at the finals Bahrain test, but weren’t near the Mercedes cars in terms of lap times.

However, Friday practice has now come and gone, and the doubt that was cast over the reigning champs may have lifted a bit, with the team posting competitive lap times in FP1 and FP2.

They’re still not close enough to Mercedes pace, averaging around a second slower than the pace-setting Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. It still begs the question if they sandbagged the last test, or whether Renault have made major strides in curing their early problems with the new power unit.

Sebastian Vettel’s best lap in FP2 was 0.7 seconds behind pace setter Hamilton, while Daniel Ricciardo – in his first Grand outing for the Red Bull outfit, was just a further 0.2 seconds away from his teammate.

“I think we have to be pretty positive with where we ended up today. We expected Mercedes to be quickest, but we were within a second of them today so that’s a lot better than we thought,” Ricciardo said at the end of Friday’s two practice sessions

His teammate Vettel was also happy with Red Bull’s progress since testing.

“In a way it’s a relief today, the fact that we were running, we didn’t have any problems, the balance was good and the performance looked alright. In the end Friday times are not worth a lot, but it’s better to be close to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I’m very happy with that.”

FP3 will start at 2:00pm local time, with qualifying kicking off at 5:00pm.

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Josh Kruse

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