(CNN) Ahead of the start of the 2018 Formula One season, Daniel Ricciardo is in his element.
With the season opener in Melbourne just around the corner, the Australian is sat in a Red Bull racing simulator, designed to mimic the race day environment, ironing out the kinks in the car’s new design. Little has changed from last season’s version, the 2018 design an “evolution” of the 2017 one, Ricciardo explains at Red Bull’s headquarters in Milton Keynes. “The biggest difference it will have is visually from the fan’s point of view,” he says. “There is the halo, the shark fin that’s been trimmed down, the rear spoiler of the car, all that bodywork is diminished. “There’s lots of stuff, I don’t even understand all of it it … probably not even half of it,” Ricciardo laughs.
The halo — a titanium structure designed to protect the drivers’ heads from flying debris — has divided opinion ahead of its introduction to F1 in 2018. Despite its structure appearing particularly bulky from the outside, Ricciardo insists the new safety barrier is barely noticeable from inside the cockpit. “I’ve done a few laps in it already and I honestly forget about it nearly immediately,” he says “Even though it’s such a big structure, because you’re always looking forward and at the corner, you kind of see through it. So you don’t even know it’s there.” When tested by the the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the halo was found to prevent 17% of small objects aimed at the driver’s head. Ricciardo, however, is keen to stress this added protection will not result in drivers taking more risks out on the track. “As far as the approach to racing or the risks you take, zero changes,” he insists.
“If we hit the wall, it doesn’t make the wall feel any softer, it’s really just to save a potential fatality with a flying object, a wheel or a wing from a car in front. “If that’s going to come towards us, then the halo is going to hopefully protect that.
Home Grand Prix
With the season-opening Australian Grand Prix a little over one week away, Ricciardo’s attention is focused on trying to secure a first podium finish at his home race. Since joining Red Bull in 2014, the 28-year-old has only managed a best of fourth place in 2016 — and last year failed to even finish the race.
Ricciardo openly admits strong starts to the season haven’t been Red Bull’s forte since he arrived, which he attributes to the team being better prepared for preseason testing in Barcelona. The one time Ricciardo did get a good start, finishing second at the 2014 season opener in Melbourne, he was subsequently disqualified after his car was found to have breached fuel regulations.
That disqualification means an Australian is still to finish on the podium of the race since it became part of the F1 world championship in 1985. “I’m quietly confident that we’re going to start a lot stronger this season than we have in previous seasons,” Ricciardo says. “We’ve rolled the car out earlier this year, the team has been just a bit more proactive with getting the car prepared. “Not being too greedy or overconfident bringing it to Barcelona (for testing) at the last minute and expecting it to run well, which it normally hasn’t.” Alongside 20-year-old sensation Max Verstappen, Ricciardo believes Red Bull “absolutely have the strongest lineup” going into the 2018 season. Such is his confidence, Ricciardo is adamant his team now have the firepower to chase down last year’s two leading drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
“We’ve learned from the past and now we’re going to move forward and do very, very well and challenge the silver and red cars,” he says.
“I like the lineup we’ve got, I like Max as a teammate, I like his intensity and he’s obviously got an extremely high level of skill. I think we’re good competitively for each other.”
Often found sauntering through the paddock on race weekend, shades on and a Cheshire Cat-like grin across his face, Ricciardo doesn’t seem like a man who feels the pressure.
It’s easy to imagine the pressure of expectation would be weighing heavy on Ricciardo’s shoulders ahead of what will be the fifth home race of his career.
But he only has positive things to say about what he believes is one of the greatest weekends on the circuit.
“Melbourne is a crazy way to start the season,” he says with a smile.
“For me in particular because I’m the only Aussie currently on the grid so there’s the hype, the attention of the first race and then you double that for me because naturally I’ve got more people interested in me back in Australia — it’s crazy.”
Ricciardo sounds like he is relishing the challenge.
News Source: CNN