RED BULL'S NO.1: Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will have a lot to prove at the season-opening Australian GP on March 15. Image: AP / Darko Vojinovic
MELBOURNE, Australia - Daniel Ricciardo believes 2014 proved he can handle Formula 1 pressure and that he's ready to assume the burden of hometown expectations in the 2015 season-opener here on March 15.
Ricciardo has been feted like a superstar ahead of the 2015 Australian GP, a contrast to 2014 when he was No.2 to Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and still struggling to step out of Mark Webber's shadow.
A podium place from his home race, although lost to a heartbreaking disqualification, and his first three race wins, however, saw him finish third in the 2014 Drivers' championship and the upstaged Vettel head off to Ferrari.
Ricciardo said: "I don't feel any more pressure than last year - that was already a pretty big step. Coming into a top team, everybody was asking me questions: Can I be up to Seb's pace? Can I get on the podium? I feel like I answered a lot of those questions.
"I think I've proved of what I'm capable and it's just a matter of hoping we've got the equipment."
After racing the best part of the 2011 season with Hispania Racing and three years with Toro Rosso before making the step up to Red Bull. Sunday will be Ricciardo's 70th GP.
He accepts that the strength of the Mercedes team means winning a fourth GP prix in Melbourne is probably beyond him but matching 2014's podium finish is not out of the question.
'MERC THE TEAM TO BEAT'
He said: "It's really a question of how much we have improved and if we've improved enough to close the gap to Mercedes. Testing has shown us that Mercedes is still really strong... I don't want to be pessimistic it seems to be the team to beat.
"Behind Mercedes it's pretty close between us, Ferrari and Williams - we all look to be next in line. I think if we put it all together we can fight for at least that last spot on the podium this weekend."
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 F1 season – fresh reports every day.