Renault Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo expects the midfield battle to be exceptionally close once the 2020 season gets underway, saying the three leading midfield teams were “within a tenth” of a second of each other in pre-season testing.
The F1 season will finally get started in Austria in a little over two weeks time, which will mark the first time many of the 2020 F1 cars have turned a wheel since the end of pre-season testing at the beginning of March.
By the end of two weeks of pre-season testing, it was widely understood that Racing Point’s controversial dupe of Mercedes’ 2019 car was the benchmark outside of F1’s top three teams.
But speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, Ricciardo said that analysis conducted by Renault after Barcelona suggested his team was within touching distance of topping the midfield.
“I certainly expect to be close,” said Ricciardo.
“All we’ve got now is testing back in February, and we kind of had our analysis after the testing and tried to figure out where everyone stands, and all I can say is, the lead midfield car, it was really hard to kind of figure it out if it was us or not.
“It looked like I would say at least three of our midfield teams were all within a tenth.
“Austria for us last year was maybe our worst actual weekend of the year. So I think if we could come out there and be at the front of the midfield, I think that looks good for us for the rest of the season.
“But it’s hard to predict, to be honest.”
Ricciardo was testing a 2018 car with Renault at the season-opening Red Bull Ring circuit last week.
Renault’s test follows running by several other outfits as teams and drivers look to reacquaint themselves with F1 machinery, as well as adapting to the strict new social distancing protocols introduced by F1 so that the season can finally begin.
“It was firstly good. Good to get back into it,” said Ricciardo.
“The first few laps, yeah, it felt a little foreign, but it’s also like all things.
“When you’ve been doing something pretty much your whole life, it doesn’t take long till you remember the feeling, and it all feels very normal very quickly.
“But certainly, getting in the first time, leaving the pits felt a little strange.
“But I’m really glad we got to do it because I think just shaking off the cobwebs, even like your general body soreness that you get after the first day, I feel like I’ve gone through that now.
“It was just good to kind of get back into work mode. I think as much as quarantine was nice on the farm and all that, I did miss serious competition and serious work.”
McLaren also ‘pumped up’ for Austria
As last year’s fourth-placed team, Renault engine customer McLaren is hoping to consolidate its position at the head of the midfield.
It was satisfied with its pre-season testing performance, having focused mainly on racking up mileage before introducing upgrades in the second week.
Team principal Andreas Seidl says the extended hiatus has left McLaren eager to get on-track and see how it compares to its rivals.
“Me personally, but also the entire team, we’re really pumped up now to get back to Austria, and see where we are,” said Seidl.
“We know from winter testing, that we definitely made a good step over winter. We had a good test.
“At the same time, the competition around us did a great job as well.
“So it’s important now to get back to this momentum we had over winter as quickly as possible, get back into this competition mode, this fighting spirit and then hopefully we have a good start.”