‘Cool’ Ricciardo begins Renault revival
Daniel Ricciardo's new Formula One teammate has declared his "cool" Aussie ally as the perfect partner to lead a Renault revival this season.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon heaped praise on Ricciardo then declared next month's Melbourne Grand Prix could be the fastest on record.
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Ocon, 23, will be Ricciardo's friend and foe when the lights go green at Albert Park, where a lap record set by Michael Schumacher 16 years ago may finally fall.
But as the F1 year roared to life on the opening day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Ocon said it was "good fun" to be working alongside Ricciardo on and off the track.
"He's a cool bloke so I think it's going to be a fun year and hopefully we are going to be able to push ourself to make a better order on the grid," he said.
Ocon praised Ricciardo before settling into the driver's seat of the Renault R. S. 20 early Thursday morning.
"Being teammates with one of the best on the grid, I could not be in a better place," he said.
And, after a year out of F1 racing, he was surprised by the pace of this year's cars and declared fans with a need for speed were in for a treat.
"It's just going to get faster and faster," he said.
"We are probably going to break all the records I reckon this year in lap times."
If that happens in Melbourne, the world's best will have to beat the lap record of 1:23.125 Schumacher set during his legendary rein with Ferrari in 2006.
World champion Lewis Hamilton again appears the best chance to threaten the record after topping the time sheet at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya.
Hamilton (1:16.976) and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas (1:17.313) were both fastest, ahead of Racing Point's Sergio Perez (1:17.375) and Red Bull's Max Verstappen (1:17.516).
But Ocon said first impressions of his new car were "very good", despite being one of the tallest drivers in F1 and having to squeeze into the cockpit beneath the safety halo.
"It's a good base that we are having at the moment," he told the Herald Sun.
"Sometimes when you step in cars you think 'oh there is an issue that they are trying to solve for the entire winter'. There isn't any kind of that at the moment so it feels pretty healthy."
Ocon got first feel of the car on the opening morning of testing, clocking a fastest lap of 1:18.004 before handing over to Ricciardo in the afternoon.
Ricciardo donned a racing helmet paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, painted Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold and inscribed with the words "Mamba Mentality" and "KB24".
The Renault came dressed differently too, with almost all black livery.
But the Renaults will return to their traditional yellow and black colours for the Albert Park Grand Prix.
Renault is desperate to close the gap on Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull after falling behind McLaren and finishing a disappointing fifth in the constructors championship last year.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was supposed to drive all day but pulled out sick, handing duties to teammate Charles Leclerc who was 12th fastest (1:18.289).
The three day testing event allows teams to get acquainted with their cars ahead of the season opening Melbourne Grand Prix from March 12-15.
FIRST DAY TEST TIMES:
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:16.976 (94 laps),
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:17.313 (79),
Sergio Perez (MEX/Racing Point-Mercedes) 1:17.375 (58),
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) 1:17.516 (168),
Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Alpha Tauri-Honda) 1:17.698 (116),
Carlos Sainz (ESP/McLaren-Renault) 1:17.842 (161),
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Renault) 1:17.873 (56),
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Renault) 1:18.004 (62),
George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes) 1:18.168 (73),
Lance Stroll (CAN/Racing Point-Mercedes) 1:18.282 (52),
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:18.289 (132),
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:18.382 (63),
Robert Kubica (POL/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) 1:18.386 (59),
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari) 1:18.466 (106),
Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari) 1:20.096 (79)