F1 legend backs Daniel Ricciardo for dream podium finish

Formula One World Champion and two-time Australian Grand Prix winner Damon Hill says a podium finish on Sunday is not impossible for new Renault charge Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo shocked the sport last year by inking a new two-year contract with the French manufacturer after a decade with Red Bull, a fresh challenge he hopes will lead him to the title with Renault determined to be a top team by 2020.

But, while he will likely have to wait until then for another chance to win races, let alone chase for a championship, Hill – who won in both Adelaide [1995] and Melbourne [1996] – is adamant the Australian is still on course for a top result at his home event at Albert Park.

“If he was well and truly in the top-six, that would be encouraging,” Hill said.

Ricciardo is keeping his expectations in check at Renault. Pic: Getty

“I think with a bit of luck it’s not impossible to see him on the podium. I think it’s too much to expect for him to be on pole position and win the race.

“I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but if that happened then I know nothing about motor racing [laughs].”

Hill, who raced to the 1996 crown in a Renault-powered Williams FW18, also says Ricciardo’s decision is a smart one for the medium-term – with the French marque steadily growing its operation and on-target with results, finishing fourth in the constructors’ standings behind the top teams last year.

“The challenge in Formula 1 is absolutely massive,” Hill said.

“To get to the front you’re going to have to be pouring a lot of investment in and I think that Renault have been very wisely ramping up but they haven’t, by the looks of things, overcooked it at all.

“They’ve got reasonable expectations and they know that you win this by stealth and application. And if they can move themselves up into the top four constructors [consistently] they will have done a massively good job.”

Hill knows what it takes to win the Australian GP. Pic: Getty

At the front of the field, qualifying on Saturday is expected to be a heated shootout between Ferrari and Mercedes – with just three thousandths of a second separating four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel and five-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at the end of pre-season testing.

And it’s a mouth-watering prospect for those inside and out of the F1 paddock.

“I’m more excited about this season than I’ve ever been for as long as I can remember, actually, because there’s so many unknowns, there’s so many new challenges that we’ve got,” Hill said.

“We’ve got introduction of some aero changes to the cars, so all the teams have had to adapt their cars and nobody’s quite sure where they stand.

“Also you’ve got drivers changing from one place to another. So the pack has been shuffled as well.”

Stewart Bell