Daniel Ricciardo has credited a discovery on the setup side of his AlphaTauri car for the promising pace he displayed throughout Friday at the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Having been sidelined since the end of August with a broken bone in his left hand, Ricciardo returned to racing action last weekend at the United States Grand Prix.

However, the eight-time GP winner endured a troublesome Sunday in Austin, rueing race rust and damage that contributed to a “miserable” comeback appearance.

But Ricciardo propped up in the top 10 of the timesheets in both of Friday’s practice sessions in Mexico, following up eighth in FP1 with an encouraging sixth in FP2.

Ricciardo admits that he was chomping at the bit to return to the car, particularly having unearthed some potential changes following his disappointing outing last weekend.

“Yeah, it was very good. It was a good day,” Ricciardo reflected. “I got back to the hotel Sunday night, and I wished it was Friday in Mexico already. I was certainly pretty hungry to keep going after Austin.

“I think also some things that we kind of discovered after the race that made me want to get back on-track and prove that we do obviously have some pace.

“Today was fun. I do enjoy this place as well, it’s good, but I think the car was solid. We made good progress. I think a few little things with setup, it looks like we’re in a good place, but it is very close.

“We were I think P6 this afternoon, which is great. But also in front, it’s not too big a gap, but also behind, it’s close. Yeah. Just about putting it together tomorrow, but I think it was a really good day.”

Ricciardo’s return at the Circuit of the Americas was hindered by the interruption of the Sprint format only allocating the drivers one practice hour to optimise setups.

The Australian noted that the return to the conventional weekend configuration this weekend enabled him to trial more direction changes with the AT04 during Friday.

“I think coming from Austin, we already started with a different setup today,” he explained.

“I think there were things, if it wasn’t a Sprint weekend, we would have tried on the car, so we were obviously able to try that today and really from the get-go, I was certainly comfortable. Then we just chipped away at it. I think yeah, some setup things that we ultimately couldn’t try because of parc ferme last week. So that’s positive.

“I was just ready to go, I was ready to go from Sunday night, but even yesterday when we were at the track, It’s good, it’s good to drive today. I’m very hungry and motivated. It’s very good.”

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) AlphaTauri AT04. 27.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Practice Day.

Despite winding up only 0.316s off the leading pace at the end of FP2, the first 16 drivers were only covered by 0.956s in what was a tightly contested field on Friday.

But Ricciardo is optimistic that the positive handling he had on the AT04 can translate into a first Q3 appearance of the season come Saturday’s vital qualifying hour.

Asked how confident he is of maintaining his strong practice pace through the weekend, Ricciardo beamed: “I’m definitely confident. You never want to, I can’t stand here and predict where we’ll be tomorrow because who knows in quali and what other teams might do with fuel or engines.

“I know what I felt in the car today was good. I believe that is a top-10 car tomorrow. Top-six car would be nice, we’ll try to keep that going. But I’m not smiling because I’m looking ahead, it was a good day, and it gives me confidence for tomorrow.”

AlphaTauri had introduced several updates during Ricciardo’s recovery period, including a seismic Red Bull-inspired upgrade in Singapore and a revised floor in Qatar.

The 34-year-old asserts that he was able to instantly feel the performance improvements at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, most notably regarding stability at the rear.

Questioned whether he had now unlocked more of the potential from the recent developments, Ricciardo issued: “I think yeah, definitely I felt probably a little bit more today, getting back behind the wheel on a different track.

“Obviously it’s high downforce but low grip, but with a bit bigger wing, I could feel the car kind of squat a bit nicer in the second sector, in that kind of flip-flop section.

“I think we’re probably still not a top-10 car in the high speed, but I do feel like it’s a bit more connected under the rear, and that felt nice. To kind of have a good feeling car around here is nearly impossible because of the altitude, and even the fast cars don’t always feel that good here. Considering some strengths that I felt on a grip level like this, I think it’s positive.”

Ricciardo admits Friday represented the most comfortable he’s been with the AT04 to date, including the three weekends he drove the car prior to being ruled out with injury.

Yeah, I would say… [laughs] To be honest, the lap before I crashed in Zandvoort, I was feeling pretty good,” he remarked.

“I know we made some changes for P2, and it was kind of a direction which we were looking at going, and that felt good — until it did. So yeah, that’s what we were able to pursue a little bit more today.

“I think it’s a position where I’m definitely more comfortable with this car and feel like I can attack it the way I like. Obviously I’m very complimentary and positive today, that’s fact. But we’ll still stay level-headed for tomorrow. It’s nice, nice to be driving and just ready to kick some arse.”

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