The return of Red Bull Racing to the front of the F1 grid after a couple of races trailing the competition would usually be the big talking point in the paddock but today at least some of that attention was shared with the junior team as Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth for Toro Rosso.
Apart from that magical day at Monza in 2008, qualifying sixth represents the high water mark for the Italian team, they’ve been there five times before – but after relatively lowly qualifying positions in Malaysia and China and a disappointing race at the latter, Ricciardo’s progress into Q3 was a bolt from the blue. Here’s what he had to say afterwards.
RB: Dan, the STR7 didn’t look so quick yesterday in practice – what changed for today?
DR: We made some changes overnight, which on paper – or rather according to the data – looked like they were going to help. It’s always a bit different on track but it worked this morning [in practice] and we were quite competitive. In quali we knew we had a chance of Q3 if everything went well but as always it was tight. We put it all together and the car was reacting quite well, it got better and better each run, I was feeling the rhythm and then it all came together in Q3.
RB: You made Q3 in Melbourne but opted to stay in the garage to save a set of tyres – was that a consideration here?
DR: Not for myself, I wanted to go, but I assumed the team were contemplating it – but as soon as I heard in my earpiece that we were putting on a new set of tyres to give it a crack I was very, very happy! I was hoping they wouldn’t keep me in the pits to save the tyres as I was enjoying myself. And in the end it paid off, we gained quite a few positions by going out. Sixth is a great place to start the race from tomorrow.
RB: Yesterday you thought the team had found maybe 60 per cent of what the updates had to offer. Did you find more today?
DR: I think it’s pretty fair to say we got nearly as much out of it as we could. We’re six-tenths off pole position, that’s extremely close compared to where we’ve been before this year, even during winter testing. I think we’ve had our most competitive day today. So, yeah, I strongly believe we got the full potential out of the car. It would be nice to think there’s a bit more but I think realistically this is as good as we could have done.
RB: On Friday Toro were concerned about long-run pace, do you still have those concerns?
DR: I’m much more confident today. Yesterday we did the long runs with a different set up to what we ran today. Obviously the car’s proven to be better today on lower fuel – so you’d think it should be better with high fuel too – but we’ll find out won’t we?
Why did the updates that debuted in China not work there but seem to work here?
DR: We haven’t really changed, we’ve still got the same updates but we’ve just made sure they’re doing their job better. China was a bad weekend but we’ve now understood why it didn’t work there and from that we’ve been able to make it work here. But it’s too early to say we’re there. In Barcelona it might not work like it does here. It’s a crazy season and lots of things are changing. I don’t think people expected Red Bull to get pole today, I think they were expecting Nico Rosberg again but instead I think I’m one-tenth off Rosberg. It’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow or the next race. But we’ve definitely made good ground.
You say the car felt better today but were you surprised by the time you did in Q3?
DR: Oh yeah, definitely! We exceeded our expectations. Even when we cracked the 1m33s bracket and did a 33.5 I thought that was pretty cool. When I saw the top guys doing around 32.7 I was thinking I’d love to be in the 32s – and when I crossed the line for a 32.9, that’s when I though ‘this has been a good day’. I don’t think we expected that performance. It came from car improvement and for myself it was definitely the best qualifying session I’ve driven this year. The rate of improvement through the runs was matching the car performance – and that makes me really happy.
Fernando Alonso says he’s targeting sixth place tomorrow – do you fancy your chances of holding him off?
DR: Definitely. I’ll target fifth then! I won’t worry about the others for now. Obviously there’s going to be guys wanting to make up positions. But I’m not starting on pole so there’s people in front of me I’d like to get in front of. Obviously the McLarens, the Red Bulls are normally quicker than us but it’s not to say that tomorrow we won’t put up a fight.