(Australian Associated Press)
Daniel Ricciardo has a grandstand named after him at Melbourne’s Australian Grand Prix circuit.
His smile flashes on all billboards trumpeting the start of the fresh Formula One season.
He’s the local centrepiece of the Australian Grand Prix, starting at Melbourne’s Albert Park on Friday.
And he carries the hopes of his nation of becoming the first Australian since Alan Jones in 1980 to win a F1 world championship.
But Ricciardo himself wants to temper the expectations and calm any hype that he and his Red Bull Racing team can loosen Mercedes’ grip on the F1 titles.
The West Australian says that goal is achievable, but unlikely to be realised in Melbourne.
“Can we be the quickest? I think we can,” he told Sky Sports.
“Will it be by Melbourne? Probably not.
“We haven’t quite been the fastest in testing so I would say we’re not the quickest as we stand here today.”
Ricciardo, who finished third last season in the world title race, acknowledges Mercedes again loom as the pacesetters.
Mercedes have claimed the past three individual titles courtesy of Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2015) and Nico Rosberg (2016); and the past three constructors’ championships.
Rosberg’s shock retirement from the sport after taking last year’s crown leaves Englishman Hamilton in the box seat.
His new teammate, the precociously talented Valtteri Bottas, is expected to rise with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also looming after strong testing for a season which ushers in many changes.
Formula One’s biggest regulation rule changes since hybrid turbo power units were introduced in 2014 are expected to make lap times up to five seconds faster than last year.
The changes include increasing car body width, and tyre width, to produce more downforce and speed.