In only his second weekend back from a hand injury that ruled him out of five grands prix rounds, Ricciardo had already showed good pace on Friday when he was sixth in FP2.
He slipped back to ninth in Saturday’s FP3 session, however in qualifying Ricciardo was on form as he took fourth in Q1 and fifth in Q2.
On both occasions he was helped by team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, who was able to focus on towing the Australian as his own weekend was already compromised a power unit penalty, but even without a tow in Q3 Ricciardo managed to qualify fourth and split the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Speaking to Sky F1, Ricciardo explained that he “started the weekend with a bit of a different set-up” which he felt “just felt comfortable with”.
Combined with what he described as a “positive chip on my shoulder”, the eight-time grand prix winner said he has regained his confidence.
“I know I haven’t done much this year race-wise, but I feel a lot like my old self,” remarked Ricciardo.
“And I feel like yeah, I can do well. A lot of things that were there, and it kind of brought out a lot of confidence.
“Even FP3 this morning, I was P9, and I wasn’t happy at all with my lap. But as opposed to kind of being frustrated with that, it gave me confidence coming into quali that I can clean it up and we’re going to be well inside the top 10.”
Photo by: Mark Sutton
Daniel Ricciardo, Scuderia AlphaTauri
Ricciardo said he already felt positive about Mexico after a disappointing return in last weekend’s US GP at the Circuit of the Americas that he described as ”pretty miserable”.
“Honestly I’m not just saying this now because of the result, but already Sunday night in Austin, I was just wanting it to be Friday practice,” he added.
“I wanted to get back in the car, and felt like there were some things left on the table. And there were some things also with set-up that we knew we could try this weekend having a more conventional [non-sprint] weekend, and some things that I definitely wanted to try and had some confidence in.
“So yeah, from lap one yesterday, I felt really confident. And P4 is maybe a little more than we thought, but really coming into quali it wasn’t about getting Q3, it was how far can we get inside?
“So I think as a team, we definitely had confidence. But I thought maybe with the perfect lap, it’s a P6, P7, not quite a P4. So it’s cool.”
Reflecting on his Q3 session, Ricciardo revealed that getting a clean lap was one of the keys to his performance.
“It’s a unique track where we run pretty much max downforce,” he said. “But it’s super slippery, because the altitude.
“It’s one of those ones that you can never be too clean and too smooth, because you just won’t be fast. But it is a track where you can’t afford to overdrive it, it’s very easy for the lap to kind of unravel and get away from you.
“Just a lot of precision and that finesse and you feel like you could always go quicker. But the moment you try, you end up sliding and losing a bit.”