MELBOURNE, March 21: Daniel Ricciardo faces a pivotal year in his Formula One career with expectations of a much-improved Red Bull performance and mounting speculation over where he will drive next season.
The 28-year-old Australian, who embarks on his eighth F1 season under the suffocating pressure and hype of competing at a home Grand Prix in Sunday�s opener in Melbourne, endured a frustrating 2017 campaign.
He retired from three races with engine-related problems � including the misery of failing to finish in last year�s Melbourne race � and amassed 70-places-worth of grid penalties stemming from the unreliability of the team�s Renault engines.
But Ricciardo is considered a championship threat with Red Bull�s new RB14 car expected, along with Ferrari, to threaten the Lewis Hamilton-led Mercedes� domination.
The optimism comes from winter testing in Barcelona when Ricciardo consistently registered fast lap times, suggesting Red Bull may have overcome the teething issues of last year.
�It feels like we are in a better place than we have been the last few seasons,� he said ahead of the new season.
�We seem solid. Soon we�ll know on one-lap pace where we are, but I don�t think we are far off.�
Reliability will be crucial if they are to mount a serious challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari.
Red Bull had lifted four straight drivers� and constructors� world titles when the Australian was promoted from Toro Rosso in 2014, but have not claimed another since with Ricciardo winning five races for the senior team. � AFP