Ricciardo reveals grim Renault reality
Daniel Ricciardo is refusing to think about closing the gap on the top F1 teams, admitting he has no proof his new Renault team is capable of challenging the Big Three.
As pre-season testing continued in Barcelona overnight, Ricciardo ran 10th fastest, setting his quickest lap on the hardest C1 tyre compound while most other drivers found success with the softs.
He was speedier than teammate Nico Hulkenberg and while there have been some promising signs for Renault over the past week-and-a-half - mixed in with some scary moments, such as when Ricciardo's rear wing flew off in week one - it's still too early to tell whether the French outfit can lay claim to being the "best of the rest".
Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are out in front and when quizzed after his latest day of testing if he could see Renault leading the midfield charge, Ricciardo was reluctant to get overly enthusiastic, claiming he has no "hard evidence" his new employer will be hunting down the top three teams.
"It definitely looks like it is close in that midfield group," Ricciardo said, according to Motorsport.com. "I would assume now that the top three teams still have a bit of a margin on the others, but I don't know.
"It is guessing. I would like to think that we are at the front of it, but there is no hard evidence that we are.
"Realistically we are not going to know until qualifying in Melbourne when everyone has the same fuel, same tyres, same track conditions.
"But I would at the moment say that that midfield group looks close. Everyone is able to do a low 1m17s, which is good for you guys I guess. I want to get away from that."
Ricciardo and Renault have both been clear they aren't expecting miracles in 2019 and a championship tilt is not even on the table, but the Aussie star wants to see improvement across the board.
"Our objective first and foremost is to be fourth or better in the team, but it is really trying to hone in on the gap to the top three," Ricciardo said. "As you know, it is big so it is not going to happen overnight.
"But absolutely the target this year is to close it in, close it in, and try to develop the car.
"I know last year, speaking to Nico and understanding how the team was last year, and that the rate of development wasn't always as fast as they would have liked, that is another thing this year.
"The team is building infrastructure, so it is expanding. They are addressing these things but that will also dictate perhaps how much we can pull away or catch the others."
VETTEL STUNG BY CRASH
Ferrari suffered its first major setback of F1's summer after a car fault pitched Sebastian Vettel into a big crash on another McLaren-led day of Barcelona testing.
On a day rivals Mercedes and Red Bull both cleared over 100 laps, last week's perceived pacesetters lost nearly five hours of track running after a problem at the left-front of the Ferrari sent Vettel off the track and straight into the barriers.
"I was going into Turn Three, and then by the feeling there was an issue with the front left corner," said Vettel.
"From there, there wasn't anything I could have done to avoid the impact.
"After that I wasn't in control anymore and I went straight into the barriers. We are flat-out trying to understand."
Vettel's morning was restricted to 40 laps and the repaired car only returned to the circuit for one installation lap with Charles Leclerc at the wheel in the closing minutes.
MCLAREN GOES FASTEST - AGAIN
Meanwhile, McLaren set the pace for the second consecutive day - this time with the fastest lap of Barcelona testing so far.
Carlos Sainz's 1:17.144 on a short run during the morning session was set on the C4 compound, the second-fastest tyre.
"The important stuff to come out of these days is that every time I've been out on the track the car has been progressing," Sainz told reporters.
"Pretty much everything has been improved."
Late improvements saw Sergio Perez finish second fastest for Racing Point, seven tenths back on Sainz despite using a faster tyre, with Kimi Raikkonen fourth for impressive Alfa Romeo. Vettel, despite his lack of laps, was third with Haas' Romain Grosjean fifth.
MERCEDES, RENAULT STAY LOW-KEY
While they have differing targets for F1 2019, Mercedes and Renault appeared to take similar approaches to Day Two as they racked up the laps over heavier-fuel runs at the expense of headline times.
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were eighth and ninth respectively, while Renault pair Hulkenberg and Ricciardo took 10th and 12th.
Mercedes in particular recorded a mammoth lap count - 176 laps - as it impressively rebounded from its first reliability setback on Wednesday morning (AEDT).
The sustained running gave the team the chance to further evaluate a Melbourne-spec aero upgrade that Hamilton has described as an "improvement from last week".
But there were concerns for Mercedes on its race simulations.
Technical boss James Allison said: "The race run in the afternoon, although quite considerably quicker than the last race simulation we made, was marred by front graining - something which we think, looking up and down the pit lane, could be a feature of the year."
Meanwhile, Williams' troubled pre-season took another positive turn as it completed more than 100 laps for the second successive day, this time with Robert Kubica at the wheel.
With James Galloway and Matt Morlidge, Sky Sports