Vettel pips Ricciardo in Bahrain practice
Vettel pips Ricciardo in Bahrain practice

Daniel Ricciardo is an optimist but even optimism has its limits.

Red Bull's smiling Australian, who finished third overall last season behind the Mercedes duo of now-retired champion Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, has had reason to scowl after the first two races of 2017.

The Australian Gand Prix in Melbourne was wrecked by mechanical failure while in China Ricciardo finished behind 19-year-old Dutch teammate Max Verstappen - who took third place despite starting 16th. Ricciardo, fifth on the grid, ended up fourth.

"After the race in China I was pretty pissed off," he told Reuters at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

"I just felt I could get more out of myself and when you are that close to a podium..."

The 27-year-old, whose beaming grin has become as familiar to fans as his "shoey" podium celebration of drinking champagne from his boot, said he had already had to recalibrate expectations.

"If I expect to win every race then I'll probably become miserable because it's unrealistic, but I think we know where we are now," he added.

"Coming in to this weekend I think fifth probably has to be the target and that's what I'll focus on."

Champions Mercedes and rivals Ferrari have become the pacesetters, with Ricciardo's former teammate Sebastian Vettel leading the standings jointly with Hamilton.

Red Bull are some way off the leaders' pace even if Friday practice in Bahrain showed them to be more competitive than expected, with Ricciardo third on the evening timesheets.

Vettel was fastest, ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the real test would be the first race of the European season in Barcelona next month when major updates come through but Ricciardo was looking further down the road.

"At this stage unfortunately we're not battling for the big points yet," he said.

"We're not quick enough but you'd like to think second half of the year we should start getting some chances.

"It will be very hard I think before August to get a win now."

AAP