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Ricciardo: Hamilton, Vettel no better than Max and I

MILAN, Italy -- Daniel Ricciardo does not believe 2017 title contenders Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are a cut above their nearest rivals.

For the fourth season in a row, Ricciardo's Red Bull is off the pace of the title contenders. The Australian has solidified himself as one of the grid's premier talents since joining and has accumulated five victories in that time.

Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Red Bull was expected to excel under F1's radical regulation change this season but it was Ferrari who stepped up to challenge Mercedes this year. With Vettel and Hamilton -- the winners of seven of the last nine drivers' titles -- battling for this year's championship, Ricciardo is convinced he and teammate Max Verstappen would be in the mix with more competitive machinery.

Asked whether he felt ready to win a world title with the right car, he told ESPN: "Absolutley. I felt that since 2014.

"I felt like if I was in a Mercedes I could have won, and last year as well, two kinda key years. So I definitely believe in myself. Max has been, as a teammate goes, my greatest competitor yet and I think we've challenged each other more than anyone has before. We obviously both believe we could win. I look at Lewis and Seb and these other guys as being also at the top, but I don't see them being better than me or than Max. I think we could run with them, absolutely."

Red Bull's slow start to 2017 was compounded by a correlation issue with the team's windtunnel which left it expecting performance which did not materialise once the RB13 hit the track. The team has shown progress as the season has progressed, with Ricciardo scoring four podiums and an unlikely victory at Baku in the races since the Spanish Grand Prix.

An encouraging run in the lead-up to the summer break, which saw Red Bull mix it with Ferrari at Silverstone, prompted team boss Christian Horner to predict the team could out-score the championship contenders in the second half of the year. However, having seen how close Ferrari ran Mercedes in Belgium at the power-sensitive Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Ricciardo thinks that is unlikely.

"Started off on the front foot, getting the podium in Spa, but at the end there I was pushing like hell there to keep Kimi behind me, but Lewis was pushing like hell to keep Seb behind him. So we were all attacking, we weren't saving tyres, and we were still a second a lap -- at least I was -- than Lewis and Seb.

"So we've still got some ground to make up. I think the next update we have is in Singapore, and that will be not only a circuit that suits us but with the upgrade will give us a realistic change of fighting for another win."

Author: Nate Saunders, ESPN UK
Source: http://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/20514646/ricciardo-hamilton-vettel-no-better-max-i

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