Mar 14, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
After a disastrous winter testing programme, defending world champions Red Bull finally appear to have found their feet ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
Having suffered problem after problem in Jerez and Bahrain, most expected the team to stand little chance of challenging front-runners Mercedes this weekend. However, both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo completed plenty of trouble-free mileage during practice on Friday, and even had the pace to finish well within the top ten in both sessions.
“In a way it’s a relief today, the fact that we were running, we didn’t have any problems, the balance was good and the performance looked alright,” defending world champion Vettel explained. “In the end Friday times are not worth a lot, but it’s better to be close to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I’m very happy with that.
“We will do what we can to prepare for tomorrow and Sunday, but let’s see where we are then – the most important thing is that we finish.”
Vettel completed 51 laps on Friday, amount to around one-third of what he managed throughout the entire winter testing period. New teammate Daniel Ricciardo also enjoyed a successful day at Albert Park, completing 64 laps, and he even finished ahead of Vettel in the first free practice session.
“I knew the guys were doing everything they could since testing but still, we didn’t expect to do that many laps today, so I’m really happy and pleased for them,” the Australian driver said. “I think we have to be pretty positive with where we ended up today. We expected Mercedes to be quickest, but we were within a second of them today so that’s a lot better than we thought. Let’s see if it’s the same story after qualifying tomorrow, but for today we’re pleased.”
Although the odds are stacked against him, Vettel is chasing an unprecedented tenth straight victory on Sunday in Australia. However, should the forecast rain arrive and a few retirements work in his favor, the German driver may stand a chance of breaking Alberto Ascari’s 60-year-old record.