Renault’s performance in Friday practice for this weekend’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix was a boost for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Aussie finished second fastest in the opening session and then third best in Free Practice 2.
While little can be read into times from Practice 1 owing to the different approaches taken by teams in the incident packed session, the latter result can be considered somewhat more representative.
“We keep on setting the time sheets alight on Friday, so it’s nice to see us high up again today,” said Ricciardo.
“It’s a circuit I’ve not had too much success or confidence on before, so it definitely gives me a boost.
“I learnt a lot and showed strong pace in every run.
“Looking ahead to (Saturday), I think it’ll be a lot closer especially between us and the teams that are about two to three tenths behind, so I think qualifying will be tightly contested.
“I draw a lot of confidence from today and we’ll look to string it all together for the rest of the weekend.”
Ricciardo has a best finish in Sochi of sixth, coming in the 2018 edition of the race while driving for Red Bull.
His lack of results served to underscore his enthusiasm following the opening day’s running this time around.
“It was probably the first time I’ve ever really been hooked up around here,” he explained.
“It felt good. The first run this morning, I was on it, and stayed on it for the rest of the day, so really happy with another good Friday.
“(The car) was good really out of the box, we didn’t make too many changes.
“I did quite a bit of homework, let’s say, after last year,” he added.
“I was a bit off the pace and trying to understand what we could do, and I think with myself and then changing the car a little bit more to suit what I felt I missed last year, we’re in a good place.”
The strong performance has again dangled the prospect of a maiden podium for Renault in front of the Australian.
“If we could put it here in quali, then for sure, I’d be confident of that,” he said.
“I think there’s all the cars that are around two or three-tenths (ahead) of us.
“I think it’s all going to close up, so if we can get to stay that tenth ahead, we’ll look alright.”
Team-mate Esteban Ocon was also inside the top 10 in both sessions, though more than half a second adrift of Ricciardo’s pace.
The Frenchman was sixth fastest in Practice 1, and ninth best in Practice 2.
“We tested a lot of things that now we have to put together tomorrow, so I think we’re in a good position,” he said.
“We didn’t quite find the sweet spot with the car so there’s more to come from us. We can see the performance is there.
“That’s positive and up to us now to do the magic tomorrow.
“There’s not one sector that stands out as all the corners here are quite similar and we’re looking consistent. We know what to do tomorrow.”
The Friday performance builds on solid performances from the team in recent races, which saw Ricciardo finish fourth at the Tuscan Grand Prix two weeks ago.
That followed on from the Belgian and Italian grands prix where the team expected to perform well, leaving it on the front foot heading into this weekend’s event.
“The morning session was a bit disrupted with the red flag stoppage and a couple of yellow flags, but the afternoon session was clear, and we got through everything we had planned to do,” explained Ciaron Pilbeam, Renault’s Chief Race Engineer.
“Our pace looks okay on both short runs and long runs and we’ll remain realistic for tomorrow and Sunday.
“We’ll do our usual Friday evening homework and come back tomorrow looking to put both cars in a good position on the grid.
“We’ve tried a few things on set-up on both cars and we’ll aim to put together the best bits we’ve learnt today onto tomorrow’s set-up.”
Running in Sochi continues with Practice 3 at 19:00 AEST and qualifying at 22:00.