MELBOURNE: Red Bull number one Daniel Ricciardo today insisted he can cope with the pressure at his home Grand Prix, but played down his chances of winning the opening race of the season.
The Australian goes into Sunday's race at Albert Park in Melbourne as the team's top driver after four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel moved to Ferrari.
Ricciardo was still something of an unknown quantity at last year's Australian Grand Prix but proved his mettle during a stellar 2014, finishing third in the drivers standings behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
He has been the focus of intense media interest since his arrival in Melbourne this year, but maintains it will make little difference when he gets behind the wheel.
"Once I'm in the car, the helmet's on... and the engine starts I could be anywhere in the world," he told reporters.
"That's when I've got a job to do and I think the pressure gets levelled out no matter where I am. I don't feel any more pressure than last year -- that was already a pretty big step for me."
Ricciardo famously started the 2014 season by finishing second in Melbourne, only for officials to disqualify him over a technical infringement.
He shrugged off the disappointment to win three races -- in Canada, Hungary and Belgium.
"Coming into a top team everyone was asking questions of me. Can I be up to Seb's pace? Can I get on the podium? I feel like I answered a lot of those questions," he said.
"I think I've proved what I'm capable of and it's just a matter of hoping we've got the equipment."
Ricciardo is pleased with how his Red Bull performed in testing, racking up a lot of miles and overcoming some reliability issues.
But he admits that with Mercedes improving both their chassis and engine, Hamilton and Rosberg remain the drivers to beat.
"For sure, (my car) is an improvement, but the thing is everyone improves," he said.
"It's really a question of how much have we improved and if we've improved enough to close the gap on Mercedes.
Testing has shown us that Mercedes are still really strong, I don't want to be pessimistic at all, but they seem to be the team to beat at the moment.
"Behind them I think it's pretty close with us, Ferrari and Williams -- we all look to be next in line. I think if we put it all together we can definitely fight for at least that last spot on the podium this weekend and try to apply as much pressure to the Mercs as possible."
Ricciardo's new Red Bull partner this year is Russian Daniil Kvyat, who has switched from Toro Rosso.