Vettel ‘can be strongest’ in 2017 – Ricciardo

Mar.16 (GMM) Daniel Ricciardo says Red Bull is not alarmed to be starting the season apparently off the pace of Ferrari and Mercedes.

In fact, the Australian says he hopes Ferrari’s leading pace at the Barcelona test is realised when the grid lines up in Melbourne next weekend.

“From the first test day, Ferrari made a very good impression,” he told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I hope they keep it up because it would be nice if someone could fight Mercedes.

“They’ve improved a little of everything and they also seem to be very good on these tyres. I also know that when (Sebastian) Vettel has a good car, he can be the strongest.”

Ricciardo says Red Bull will also join that fight, but he denies the team was ‘sandbagging’ during the winter.

“I wish!” he said.

“In identical conditions, we are roughly where the best cars are, but we’re not there yet.

“I think sooner or later we will begin to fight for the top positions — hopefully in Melbourne!” he said. “We’re also in good shape, but we need a little more speed.

“Wouldn’t it be great if three teams were fighting for the title?” Ricciardo smiled.

As for Red Bull’s testing pace, he insisted: “I’m relaxed. I remember all the problems we had in testing in 2014 but we won three races. So even if we’re a bit behind in Melbourne, I’m not worried.”

Notwithstanding his hopes for a three-way inter-team battle, Ricciardo actually thinks Lewis Hamilton is the favourite for 2017.

“The fight between Lewis and (Valtteri) Bottas will be interesting, but honestly I think Lewis should be ahead. I think he’s the favourite, even if Seb is flying at the moment.”

As for the plight of McLaren-Honda’s Fernando Alonso, Ricciardo expressed sympathy for the Spaniard.

“Poor guy, poor guy,” said the 27-year-old.

“I like Fernando as a person and respect him a lot as a driver and would like him to be at the front again, because it’s always a good fight with him.

“But for now it seems very difficult for McLaren to be among the top teams,” he added.

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