Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo has fired a cheeky shot across the bows of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton ahead of this weekend's Emiglia Romagna GP.
Formula One will return to the Imola circuit once again this weekend after it rejoined the F1 calendar during last season's coronavirus impacted schedule for the first time since 2006.
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The circuit is a happy hunting ground for Ricciardo, who scored the second of his two podiums for the season at the Italian circuit while driving for Renault.
Now representing the rising McLaren, Ricciardo clearly has his sights set much higher than third heading into this weekend.
Asked by Square Mile's Ben Winstanley how much of Hamilton's success could be attributed to piloting what has undoubtedly been the strongest package in F1 since 2014, Ricciardo said he felt a little closer to Hamilton in terms of skill than the record might otherwise show.
Mercedes have won every constructors' championship since the introduction of the hybrid power era in 2014.
“To answer it diplomatically, I think Lewis isn’t the only one that could win races in that car," Ricciardo said.
"That’s obviously my opinion and I think that George Russell, in a way, showed the possibility of that by pretty much beating Valtteri (Bottas) in his first race.
"So you could argue that just maybe Lewis doesn’t have the strongest competition."
However Ricciardo also acknowledged that driving the best car on the grid also came with its own set of challenges and expectations, which required a driver of Hamilton's calibre to handle.
Without his particular skill-set, Ricciardo said, Hamilton might not have enjoyed the success he has to date.
"I think, where we can’t be too aggressive or disrespectful to Lewis, is that, do a few of us believe we could beat him? Yes. I’m quite sure of that," Ricciardo said.
"But none of us have ever been in the hunt for a title. None of us have dealt with that pressure. None of us have had that year after year. Pretty much every weekend he rocks up to a race.
"Yes, he has the best car, but he’s also expected to win all the time. And if he doesn’t, it’s, ‘OK, what happened to Lewis?’”
Yuki Tsunoda hailed as best F1 rookie in years
Formula One's motorsport managing director Ross Brawn believes Japanese youngster Yuki Tsunoda is the best rookie driver in years after the 20-year-old scored points on his debut in Bahrain.
Brawn, the former Ferrari technical director who also ran the Honda, Brawn and Mercedes teams, said he had been impressed by the AlphaTauri driver's "brilliant spells" in the season-opener.
"He is the best rookie F1 has had for years, having been fairly stunning in whatever series he has competed in," said the Briton in a column for the formula1.com website.
"His promotion by Red Bull looks like a brilliant move. We can all remember the glorious days of full grandstands at Suzuka and the passion of the Japanese fans.
"I think we are going to have that again, which is incredibly exciting."
Formula One has three rookies this season, one of them last year's Formula Two winner Mick Schumacher — the son of seven-times world champion and Ferrari great Michael — and the other his Haas team mate Nikita Mazepin.
Schumacher finished 16th, lapped and last on track on Sunday while Russian Mazepin spun off at the third corner — the shortest F1 debut since 2002.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi was the sole rookie last year, failing to score a point with Williams, but the sport had a strong injection of talent in 2019 when Britons George Russell and Lando Norris moved up from F2.
Russell shone last year when he replaced seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for a race in Bahrain after his compatriot contracted COVID-19.
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