Daniel Ricciardo says he “felt like me again” after taking part in his first Formula 1 qualifying round since last November’s Abu Dhabi GP in Hungary on Saturday.
Ricciardo finished 13th for Alfadauri in Budapest, while his team-mate and keynote Yugi Tsunoda failed to get out of Q1 in 17th.
The Australian admitted that getting back into the cockpit was a challenge, but he felt “relaxed” and “happy” to be doing it.
“Obviously coming into the weekend, I know there’s going to be a bit of a hill to climb,” he said. “I tried not to get caught up in how I was going this weekend.
“But of course, I’m a race car driver, so I’m always going to expect something from myself. But honestly, I’m really just trying to get rid of it as much as I can and make sure it’s a place that makes me feel like myself again.
“And, you know, jumping in the car and qualifying, I actually felt really relaxed, not taking it lightly, but happy to be back and happy to be able to push a car back to the limit.
“It’s something I haven’t had in the last couple of years. I think that’s why I needed a break.
“I thought I’d get 12 months. In the end, it was six or seven, whatever, and luckily it was long enough. You know, I felt like I had enough time to fall in love again.”
Ricciardo insisted his priority for Sunday’s race was to get to know the car for himself and his teammates.
“I think I’ll be a little more jacked tomorrow, but smart,” he said. “Of course, I have to get into it and race and not be soft.
“But I think I need to log good laps and get information for the team. So obviously do it competitively, but be smart. So we’ll see what happens.”
He added on his learning curve: “I think I’ve probably only done an eight-lap run or something at the moment. I think tomorrow I’m going to learn a lot in terms of tire management, but the car with fuel.
Daniel Ricciardo, Albadari AT04
Photo: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport films
“As the tires go off, I think I start to find out a little bit more about the car and then in those conditions, the weaknesses.
“So I think there will probably be places where I don’t do very well, but there will be times when I do well because I learn as I go along.
“I don’t want to sound negative about it, but yes, inevitably I’m going to pick up a few more things and hopefully I can be a quick learner. And if we can find our way into the points, that will be massive.
“Obviously as a team we have to score points, but it’s really just making sure I’m on top of the car, together with the car, and then I can say the first box I need to tick.”
He admitted that the hot weather and the tight and winding nature of the track made his first race a physical challenge: “Physically I think I’m definitely going to feel more than the others. They’re a bit more conditioned this year, but I know it’s there now.
“I’m feeling better now, I can actually move my neck better. So I think so far so good, but 70 laps here and in this heat, even when you’re in race fitness, it’s always one of the hardest.
“Here and Singapore, they’re both tough. So it’s another thing for Red Bull to challenge us, ‘yeah, Daniel jump next week and do it in Budapest’. But it’s good, I’m enjoying it.”