MELBOURNE, March 12 (Reuters) - Daniel Ricciardo, looking ever more comfortable in his role as one of Formula One’s major talents, is quietly confident about his prospects of making further inroads this year.
The Australian proved a revelation last season, winning three races and finishing third in the championship in his first year with Red Bull.
Buoyed by his success, the 25-year-old Ricciardo said he was feeling even better about his chances going into this season, starting in his homeland on Sunday.
“If you look back at last year, for sure we’re in a better position,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
“I (don‘t) think the times we put down in testing... have shown that yet but obviously we’re coming here this weekend with a lot more confidence and reliability.”
Last year’s Australian Grand Prix was bittersweet for Ricciardo. He crossed the line second to get on the podium for the first time in his career, only to later be disqualified because of a fuel irregularity.
Sebastian Vettel had won the previous four world championships with Red Bull but the team did not have high expectations at the start of 2014.
“We’ve actually got a plan for Sunday whereas last year it was just ‘OK, let’s put the car on the track and hope to see the chequered flag’,” Ricciardo said.
“Within the team obviously there’s a lot more that’s progressed since then.”
Ricciardo’s status in the team has also changed. Vettel has moved on to Ferrari and been replaced by Russian Daniil Kvyat, who is just 20, leaving the Australian as the senior driver.
“With myself obviously I’ve moved along, I feel a long way,” Ricciardo added.
”I‘m a more evolved driver and have a bigger impact in the team, obviously spending the 12 months there that I have now.
“It’s all there on the table ready for us to use and pursue to put up another strong fight so I‘m looking forward to this season.”
However, Ricciardo stopped short of making any bold predictions about winning the championship, conceding that Mercedes still looks to have an edge over the other teams.
“We’ll see what happens on track but it does look like the Mercs have a bit of pace again this year,” he said.
”But for those last spots on the podium it looks pretty close between us, Ferrari and Williams and I‘m sure there will be a few other players coming into the mix.
“We’ll see everyone on track like for like this weekend and I think that is what is going to be exciting.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)