(Photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI)
Daniel Ricciardo began by explaining how his win in China felt special after a long wait and some frustrating races this season: "The whole weekend, Saturday, FP3, another kind of head-down moment, but then to get out for qualifying and how the race turned out. It was cool. I guess just a lot of emotion, happy emotions for sure. Yeah. The highs and lows of the sport can do that to you."
When asked about Red Bull’s championship chances, he said: "Probably haven’t seen enough from everyone yet! So, I’m not thinking about the Championship… It’s still early – but I think we’ve proved, if we’re there, we can do a lot with it. That’s the plan: to continue to be there for the next few races."
When quizzed about his consistency in qualifying, Nico Hulkenberg had this to say: "I think I’ve just managed to… hit it on the head each time. I quite enjoy qualifying, I like getting out there where it counts and putting a lap together. I feel also the last 20 races I also had a car that allows me to do that and gives me the support that a driver needs. Since last year, with this generation of cars, when you have the downforce, you’ve got more grip to work with. It’s just been more fun and probably helps the way I drive also, a little."
And on Renault’s status in the championship and the battle for fourth place, he added: "Each weekend will be different depending on the tyre compounds, different tracks and layouts - what favours one car more than another one. But for sure it’s a big development race in the midfield. But yeah, we’re trying to get ahead but still got a lot of areas to work on catching all the three guys ahead."
On the same subject Haas’ Kevin Magnussen described the difficulty his team faces: "It will not be easy for sure. We’ve started with a good car and done a good job over the winter… we haven’t had a perfect start to the year so I think there’s more in it if we can get through the races and clear out any mistakes. I think it depends a lot on how the other teams do… Renault and McLaren. Last year, consistency wasn’t our biggest strength, so I think that's an area we have improved. Our car is a little easier to work with and seems like it has a broader window for its performance. I’m hoping that we can at least be more competitive through the whole season than last year – but whether we can keep up to those big guys, it will not be easy but we’ll do our best."
Magnussen was also honest in his appraisal of his improved qualifying performances: "It’s only been three races but I think the car is obviously better than last year. It’s just a little easier to drive. A little more forgiving, more predictable and it has more grip. In terms of aero it’s more consistent. I prefer a consistent car, especially on the rear, a rear I can trust and depend on and predict. I think that helps – but just being more competitive makes things easier."
When the questions were opened up to the floor, Ricciardo was asked about the secret to winning races from outside the top five on the grid.
He explained: "I’d like to qualify on the front row. It’s not always the case. Obviously the race is the race and qualifying is super-important in the sport but you can also have a different car on Sunday. More opportunities can present themselves in the race – and that’s ultimately what we get to the weekend for, is the Sunday. The mid-race safety car in China bunched everyone up and gave me a second chance to attack. I sensed an opportunity and made sure I capitalised on that. I think that’s something I really demand from myself and, I guess, expect from myself. Like Baku last year. Mid-race we were at the back but… you see a car in front and you try to pass them, you see the next car, you try to pass them, you see the next car and try to pass them. Obviously, I knew Seb would have the penalty, Lewis had the headrest thing. It was crazy – but again I sensed an opportunity and knew the restart was super-important to pass the Williams in front and for me that was the race-winning move, so I think yeah, just being aware of what’s available. Because we’re not winning every weekend, when you have a sniff of a victory, that’s all the motivation and the hunger I need. It’s enjoyable when you can see it in front of you."
It was no surprise when the Australian was also questioned about his future at Red Bull and whether he was searching greener grass elsewhere. He responded: "It’s a good way of putting it. The curiosity will not overcome the facts, I guess, in terms of what options I will have… and which car is ultimately the fastest I can be with… to answer that differently, I wouldn’t just go somewhere else just for a change… I’d want to make sure it was something I feel would potentially be better."
He also emphasised that he had only had talks with Red Bull, had no pre-agreement with Ferrari and had a team in place to deal with such negotiations should they come up.
Asked about being in an environment where drivers must work for each other he replied: "At Red Bull there’s always been really good clarity and I would say fairness… That’s been a nice environment and I would expect that environment everywhere."
On Mercedes’ lack of a race win in 2018 Nico Hulkenberg declared: "I think they have one of the best packages, so it’s just a matter of time." Magnussen had nothing to add while Ricciardo expanded slightly: "I think it is a matter of time. It is good for the sport… to have that little of a change for now, but I don’t think it will be a trend."
When asked if would have won in Bahrain had he been driving the chasing Mercedes Ricciardo admitted: "I wasn’t in the race and it’s probably disrespectful when I wasn’t in Seb or Valtteri’s shoes, but I would see myself having a lunge." And on whether he was the favourite in Baku: "I hope we’re close, but I think it’s too early to say we’re favourites. I think we have a good race car for sure. I think one-lap pace we’ve still got to show more. At least for Saturday I think we’ll probably not be there but Sunday, who knows, that can turn around."
Magnussen and Hulkenberg both talked about the improved confidence that their strong start to the season have given them. The Dane said: "It’s a nice feeling and its more and enjoyable and easier to look forward to the races when you know you’ve got a good car and can fight for points." Hulkenberg added: "It’s definitely fun if you have a good couple of races and straightaway you get a couple of points on the board. That helps yourself, but also the whole team… it puts a spring in their step and helps to create a good atmosphere and motivation inside the team."
All three drivers were asked about next season’s fuel limit changes and the difference it will make. Hulkenberg enthused: "It will definitely help the fuel saving situation and not really having to worry about that too much, on that front, definitely allows you to push to the limit… it’s a positive thing I think and in the right direction."
Ricciardo agreed: "For sure it will be better if we can race with real intentions for every lap." Magnussen added: "I don’t mind fuel saving… sometimes even before you had these limitations, like five years ago they were doing management because they would start the race with an anticipation of safety cars or whatever. A little is fine but sometimes it’s too much. I think it’s a good change."
Finally, each driver gave their thoughts on their individual power units. On the Ferrari, Magnussen had this to say: "It’s a step forward, not only in power – but in reliability. No complaints about the power unit. It’s not the power unit’s fault we’re not winning, for sure."
Hulkenberg gave the Renault perspective: "For us… it’s the step in reliability we’ve fixed. Power wise, I think… they’ve done a great job on the Renault power unit over the winter. Doesn’t mean that there’s no more work to do but I think we’ve done some good improvements."
Daniel Ricciardo rounded up with his verdict on Red Bull’s package: "It’s no secret we don’t have as much power available on a Saturday as Ferrari and Merc… but I think we’ve closed the gap on Sundays… following the quicker cars in China… even Kimi in Melbourne, it felt like we were losing out a lot less in those conditions so that was positive."
What did you make of Thursday's Press conference? Will Ricciardo be at Red Bull next season? Let us know in the comments below.