Daniel Ricciardo has warned there is still “more to come” after an impressive debut performance in qualifying with AlphaTauri.
After seven months on the sidelines, Ricciardo managed to qualify P13 on his competitive return to F1 while teammate Yuki Tsunoda was eliminated in Q1 and will start Sunday’s race 17th.
The Australian returns to a full-time seat in F1 this weekend after replacing Nyck de Vries in the Red Bull junior team.
“I had no idea where to expect on the grid,” Ricciardo told the media. “13th place kind of seems a bit out of place.
“The main thing is for me to get behind the wheel, to feel good again and to be comfortable in the car and in the team. I feel like I have made good progress over the last two days and have learned quite quickly, and as long as we continue to improve from here, I will be happy.
“It wasn’t the easiest weekend to tackle, with the wet conditions we had yesterday and the different tire allocations, but I was happy to be competitive in qualifying. I don’t expect the race to feel too foreign to me, I’ve only had six months off so tomorrow will be fun, and of course if there are any gaps I’ll see what the car can do.
Despite being absent and returning to the sport in a car he has never driven, Ricciardo said he felt “relaxed” jumping into the AT04 for qualifying.
“I felt really relaxed, and I shouldn’t take it lightly, but just happy to be back and happy to be able to push a car to the limit again,” he added.
“It’s something that I haven’t always had in the last two years, and that’s why I think the time off was necessary for me.
“I thought I was going to be 12 months (on a racing seat), in the end I only got six or seven or whatever. Luckily that was enough. I felt like I had enough time to fall in love again.
After feeling he was running out of lap time on Friday, the 34-year-old was able to close his gaps overnight to reach Q2.
“I think whatever I had to improve on last night, I felt like I could improve. I got it almost 100 per cent, maybe 98, so I took a good step.
“I think the lap was pretty good. It’s tough in these temperatures too, and in the last sector you rely so much on rear grip that probably no one is saying the car was amazing in these conditions. I also have to keep that in mind.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Ricciardo is wary that he has yet to complete a full stint, but isn’t overly concerned before the race.
“I will be a little more excited tomorrow. But I think I might as well be smart. I don’t think, of course, that I need to get in there and run, and not be limp.
“I’ve only done maybe an eight lap race or something at the moment. Even for me, I think tomorrow there’s going to be a lot to learn for me in terms of tire management, but also the car, with the fuel, as the tires come loose I think I’ll probably start to figure out the car, those conditions, the weaknesses.
“I think there will probably be rounds where I may not do very well. But then there will be rounds where I will do better because I’m learning as I go, in a way. I don’t mean that negatively, but inevitably there will still be a handful of things to take away, and hopefully I can learn quickly.
“If we find our way into the points then that would be huge. I think right now as a team we need to get points, but it’s just about making sure I’m above the car, in tune with the car. This is the first box I have to check.