An improved power unit and chassis for the 2016 season sees Red Bull Racing closing the gap to Mercedes and challenging the Ferraris. With a power unit upgrade scheduled for Canada, the Milton Keynes outfit could see themselves fighting Ferrari more frequently.
With Max Verstappen’s mid-season promotion to the team, all eyes will be on both Red Bull drivers for the upcoming races to see how Ricciardo and Verstappen will cope with their respective pressures.
Josh Kruse sat down with Ricciardo at the Spanish Grand Prix to get the Australian’s thoughts on Verstappen’s promotion as well as to talk about Red Bull’s strong start to the season.
Topical question at the moment…
Yep, you wanna know about 2017 regulations?
Well I do, I’ll save it for another time! For now, with Max Verstappen’s promotion do you consider yourself as the default number 1 driver?
Yeah well, to be honest I’ve never really seen myself as a number one, I never really put myself as a one or two in the team, I let the results do the talking. I feel this year I’ve been getting the better results, so yeah I feel I’ve been the stronger guy in the team and sure from my side I want to continue that with Max coming in. But there’s nothing I need to do differently. Hopefully I learn something from Max, he’s young and he’s fast, so hopefully there’s something I can take from him which will make me even stronger. But yeah it’s exciting, it’s another challenge, it’s another kid who is coming up through the ranks like I did when I came up with Seb [Vettel] I was the young guy. This is now Max in his position and it’s my job to make sure I’m getting the most out of it.
So you’re not falling into the number one role, you’re actually hoping to learn a bit off him?
Yeah, I think realistically he’ll learn more from me and the team than I will learn off him, but at the same time I think there will be at least one thing I can learn from him. Whether it’s the driving technique or whatever, but yeah, at the moment the team would rely on me in the short term for feedback. If you want to call it a number one, OK, call it that, but they’re going to rely on me a bit more for parts to test. Sure Max will give his feedback, but he doesn’t have a reference if it’s better than the old car. So for that the team will probably put a bit more items on my car to get the data.
Given the cut-throat nature of Red Bull, do you feel an increased pressure on yourself to perform?
No, at least I haven’t felt it yet. There’s always been pressure with Red Bull but it’s something that I’ve enjoyed and it’s something I’ve felt that’s always got the best out of me, and I use pressure and all this as motivation to keep doing well. When Christian [Horner] called me and said Max is going to be your teammate in Barcelona, I dunno, I was quite excited and quite motivated and just ready to try and keep on top of my game. Sure if he starts kicking my ass then that’s gonna suck, but the way I see it is I’ll keep doing my thing and roll on.
The RB12 seems quite competitive, have you been surprised by the performance considering where you were last year?
Yeah, I mean the first few races we had those top four finishes which was more than what we expected, and that was nice, a good surprise! We know as the season goes on we should get better so it’s looking a lot more promising. You know as well when you drive a car, even without looking at the lap times you know if it’s good or it’s better, and I felt that it was better than last year, so that’s really what I feel off and the results then show.
Do you think the improvements are mainly down to the aero package? Or is it a mix between a developed engine?
It’s both, I think the power unit’s definitely pulled its weight a bit more so far and we’re still a little bit off as we showed in Russia, we didn’t quite have the straight line speed, but it’s improved. And the chassis, I think the car in low-speed corners it’s a little bit more responsive this year, it wasn’t really a strength of ours I felt last year but I’m fighting the car a bit less in the first few races this year, but that’s positive, it shows I’m fighting the car a bit less in the first few races this year so that’s positive, it shows the downforce and everything is working.
What races are you looking forward to then?
Monaco! I mean, this one if all goes well should be a top-five finish for us, and Monaco all going well we should sneak a podium.
So that means third in the constructors’ championship is the goal then?
Definitely, I think it has to be. It’s already within target, and knowing that we should get better as the season goes on it has to be 1000% realistic for us.
Is this round a reference point of your progress since you tested here in February?
Yeah, it’s never always that black and white because when we come here the weather is hotter than it is in winter testing. It’s where you really can see where the car has come from the winter, but also where you are compared to your competitors. Sure, we’ll lose a bit on the straights having all the downforce on the car, but sector three is tight, so if we’re competitive there we’re looking pretty good for Monaco.
Images via Red Bull Content Pool