Daniel Ricciardo encouraged by long-run pace in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia -- An untimely red flag may have forced him to abort his best flying lap but Daniel Ricciardo insists he was never going to jump to the top of the timesheets during FP2 in Australia.

The Red Bull driver had just exited Turn 12 when the red flag began to wave due to some loose cabling on the start-finish line. Ricciardo didn't slow immediately but eventually backed off before entering the pitlane where the session was brought to a halt for five minutes.

Lewis Hamilton set the benchmark pace for Mercedes in both sessions, going quickest in the afternoon with a time of 1:23.931. However, Ricciardo's teammate Max Verstappen was nipping at his heels just 0.127s back in second.

Speaking after the session, Ricciardo said the lap he was forced to abandon wouldn't have troubled the duo at the front but he was taking comfort from some impressive long-run pace.

"I was not too disappointed to see the red," Ricciardo said. "I was a bit quicker than my soft time up until then but it wasn't going to jump me to P1 or anything like that. I had quite a lot of understeer so I don't think the lap was that good.

"The long runs were more representative, I was probably happier with them. I have a good feel for the car."

Nevertheless, Ricciardo was pleased to see a tight battle forming at the head of the field as Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari appear much more evenly matched than 12 months ago, while even Haas -- who finished just 0.717s back in seventh -- could find themselves in the mix.

"Nice to see the front seems pretty close," he said. "Hopefully it stays like that and we can all be close, then it is a nice start to the season.

"In testing [Haas] had a few people talking and today Grosjean was pretty quick, so it seems like they are matching the times they did last month."