Daniel Ricciardo believes he proved he could handle pressure during his stellar 2014 campaign and is ready to assume the burden of local expectation in the Formula One season-opener at Albert Park this weekend.
The 25-year-old has been feted like a superstar this week ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, a contrast to last year when he was number two to Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and still struggling to step out of Mark Webber’s shadow.
A podium at his home race, albeit lost to a heartbreaking disqualification, and his first three race wins, however, saw him finish third in the drivers’ championship and the upstaged Vettel head off to Ferrari.
“I don’t feel any more pressure than last year – that was already a pretty big step for me,” he added.
“Coming into a top team everyone was asking questions of me. Can I be up to Seb’s pace? Can I get on the podium? I feel like I answered a lot of those questions.
“I think I’ve proved what I’m capable of and it’s just a matter of hoping we’ve got the equipment.”
After racing the best part of the 2011 season with Hispania Racing and three years with Toro Rosso before making the step up to Red Bull, Sunday’s race will be Ricciardo’s 70th grand prix start.
Ricciardo accepts that the strength of the Mercedes team means that winning a fourth grand prix win this weekend is probably beyond him but matching last year’s podium finish is not out of the question.
“It’s really a question of how much we have improved and if we’ve improved enough to close the gap on Mercedes,” he told reporters in
“Testing has shown us that Mercedes are still really strong, I don’t want to be pessimistic at all, but they seem to be the team to beat at the moment.
“Behind them it’s pretty close with us, Ferrari and Williams – we all look to be next in line. I think if we put it all together we can definitely fight for at least that last spot on the podium this weekend.”