All this up-talk can boomerang on Ricciardo and team back if he's outperformed by Hulkenberg or the Car isn't good. These quotes (from the team) come also somewhat disrespectful over towards Hulkenberg imo. that could lead to frictions and frustration. Where Ricciardo fan's where "suspicious" (rightfully imo.) about quotes from Horner etc., it's than logic and normal same would now count for Hulkenberg and his team and fan's.
The differences between the drivers is that small. Unless you are one of the ultra-talents (WDC winners), the level of the other 15/17 is imo. quite similar. Not all of them, but some for sure would have got the results Ricciardo got in same circumstances (imo).
Past year Q performance is hard to judge and i don't expect his Q performance won't be at the top level he always has been. Past year we just can't fair judge because small Q history from Max to go on to judge how good he is in Q. If Max is the Q king, Ricciardo performed good. Is Max a average Q driver, than Ricciardo's Q wasn't good and would be troubling. But, with the Poles and win's and Q history of Ricciardo and pre season focusing on Q performance i expect his overall Q performance level will be at the top of the field and a hard teammate to beat over a season.
His Start and first lap performance and speed of overtaking (too long behind slower car's) last year does make me worry (if they stay in midfield and don't join top 3). I also fear that the new wider front wing will have more (out of control) risk of damage or flat tires and that midfield will have much more risk of that than frontrunners.
I think best would be if Renault can Qualify often on 3rd row or better. But if Renault and other's can't hope for anything better than 4th Q row, than it's going to be a hard season. If the top 3 has a clear Q advantage, they most likely will have a higher race speed also, just like past years. Than the top 3/6 are often within a couple laps double dozen seconds (free pitstop) in front of p7/12. You will be dependent on dnf's frontrunners for big results, doesn't matter how good you are, it's just a other league.
If there is a same split top 3 and rest like past years, Renault has some tuff competitors to outperform. They should be able to do so, but it's not a forgiven conclusion and would be silly to see those teams not as competitors.
- Haas, 4th year, more experience, good last season speed wise, so good date to work further on. 2 experience drivers, but very inconstant, i rate Renault driver pair stronger.
- Sauber, % wise biggest in season gain past year. Seems to have money and plan. One rookie and one Veteran ex-wdc driver, i rate Renault driver pair stronger.
- RPFI, for years a strong midfield team should be expected to be up their again. Has funding and ambition. Likely 2 solid drivers, but has to be proven yet and rated far less than Renault driver line-up by me.
- McLaren, Williams and STR are all 3 possible dangerous outsiders. McLaren could build better car, Williams could profit Kubica and Mercedes help, STR could profit if Honda performs better than expected.
Like last year some McLaren fan's where sure they would be 4th best team and challenge for podiums and wins, and came hard way too the reality, i wouldn't place my expectations and hope to high.
- I think there is a bigger chance different top 3 and the rest stay's relative similar than that one or 2 teams join the top 3. (i do hope the later one of course).
- Like always there will be some "shuffle" between strength/performance mid teams, but it's more likely some will have relative similar strength/performance level than that one team is significant better than the others. Both have their cons, same level is risks on track, better level is boring nowhere's land and no real in-season development need and justification.
- What if RBR/Honda turns out to be a true WDC/WCC candidate and winning races/podiums on merit whole season long. Could that have a impact on him, after GP weekend, unwittingly knowing (or reporters reminding him on it) you could have been in that race/WDC winning car?
They could join top 3 and fight legit for podiums and win's, we don't know yet right? And we all would hope they will. But, i wouldn't foresee and expect that as only and/or most logic scenario.