A late charge to sixth in the Japanese Grand Prix has Daniel Ricciardo confident of a late-season push with Renault as he looks to maintain a top 10 season finish.
Ricciardo surged from 16th following a difficult qualifying in Suzuka, with the Australian fighting through the field twice to register just his third top six finish this season.
Considering the tightness of the midfield battle, it was a vital result for Ricciardo — just 11 points separate Ricciardo in ninth to Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen in 14th in the standings ahead of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
The topsy-turvy form of Renault has left the team in an uncomfortable position, with McLaren now 34 points ahead in fourth in the constructors’ standings, with Toro Rosso 18 points behind.
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Ricciardo had difficult races in Singapore (14th following a qualifying exclusion) and Russia (retired with collision damage) while teammate Hulkenberg registered two top 10 finishes.
Renault stopped the slide through Ricciardo’s sterling fight to seventh at the flag in Japan, which became sixth when Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc copped post-race time penalties.
For a team teetering on a knife’s edge when it comes to confidence — with managing director Cyril Abiteboul keeping no secret of his own struggles — Ricciardo knew how much weight the Japan result can carry into the final races of a tough season, with an eye on a resurgent 2020 campaign.
“I was thinking, ‘same kind of crap,’ and that we can’t really get a break with issues and whatever, but I feel like we finally got a result we deserve,” Ricciardo said of his Suzuka P6 following another qualifying nightmare.
“We’ve got back-to-backs [races] coming up now, some fun ones, so hopefully we can get a string of points finishes and try to just get something for the team.”
Renault was the surprise packet in Monza, but failures in Singapore and Russia left heads being scratched.
Ricciardo’s race day charge in Japan prompted the team to put their eggs in his basket, to which Hulkenberg — who is leaving the team at the end of the season — obliged.
Over the radio, once clear of Hulkenberg, Ricciardo reasoned with his team, saying he could get past the cars ahead.
He did, proving the speed of the #3 — but Renault remains in the hot seat as the FIA investigates the R.S.19’s braking system following a protest by Racing Point.
Regardless, Ricciardo — who leads Hulkenberg in qualifying and race head-to-heads — acknowledged that the team needs to keep spirits high ahead of a possible 2020 rebound, with Esteban Ocon joining the team.
“We get there [at the front] and then we drop, kind of the heads drop a bit, and we’re trying to get back up,” Ricciardo said.
“For everyone’s sake we need to try to keep some positivity before the year is out.
“I think [Hulkenberg] been in [Lance] Stroll’s DRS for quite a few laps, so I came on the radio … ‘guys if he can’t pass, release me,’ I said, ‘I’m sure I can get them’,” he said.
“I think after two laps they released me, and then I reassured them, ‘Guys I’m going to get them, trust me we’ve made the right decision,’ and obviously we did. I thanked them after, and I think clearly in the end it was the right call.
“I really believed I obviously had the pace and the tyre to do it, so that’s why I had a lot of confidence that once being released, I could get the guys in front.”