The time is now for Daniel Ricciardo.
Armed with an enhanced car and a rules reset that should allow Red Bull to finally challenge Mercedes, Ricciardo has the best shot of his career to win a Formula One championship.
The 27-year-old wants to end a personal drought at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix tomorrow week by achieving a maiden podium at Albert Park.
But after finishing a distant third in the title race last year behind retired world champion Nico Ros-berg, Ricciardo has higher ambitions this year.
Red Bull’s performance was low key in pre-season testing, but team principal Christian Horner has hinted several F1 teams, including his own, may have been holding back the true potential of their cars.
Ricciardo said Red Bull had the potential to become the fastest team on the grid this year.
Asked if he could win a breakthrough F1 championship, the WA racer said: “Yes. If we’ve got a car capable, I do believe I can win.”
A fourth place in Australia last year was Ricciardo’s best finish on home soil.
Albert Park remains the scene of one of his great triumphs and disappointments, having crossed the line second on debut for Red Bull in 2014 only to later be disqualified for fuel-flow irregularities in his car.
So Ricciardo is targeting his best result in the Aust-ralian GP.
“I would be most happy with a win, but if we generalise the word happy then a podium,” he said.
“It would be good to start with a podium and be on the podium in Australia. That would be very nice.
“If I was to say where do I want to be at the mid-point of the season, I think in the fight, still within reach of the championship lead.
“That would be great.
“I guess that would have meant probably at least one race win, but by mid-season to be within striking distance that would be a nice little mini goal for now.”
Red Bull have set clear racing parameters for Ricciardo and highly-rated teammate Max Verstappen, demanding the drivers show each other respect on the circuit.
Horner said the team would favour neither racer.
Ricciardo predicted that his own maturity could be a key to winning the internal battle with Verstappen, who is still just 19.
“I do feel like in pressure situations I’m normally performing well,” Ricciardo said.
“Experience is something which you can learn a lot from, but at the same time I don’t necessarily think Max is a rookie any more.
“He’s done two full seasons now in F1.
“He’s certainly not a rookie. I don’t even know if he’s 20 yet, but in racing terms he’s done a bit now.
“I don’t think the rookie card will be played any more, but I think my maturity can potentially be a strength.”