Ricciardo looks forward to Red Bull challenge in 2014 (VIDEO)

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The moment has almost arrived for Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Only three races remain before the young Australian can start the transition from STR to Red Bull Racing, where he’ll become the new teammate to four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel starting next season.

And as Ricciardo’s big opportunity looms ever closer, the pressure will only build more and more. For example, RBR boss Christian Horner has high expectations for him, telling the media this past week that he thinks Ricciardo “will be a bit of a surprise” in his first year alongside Vettel.

It’ll all be a massive challenge for Ricciardo, who broke into Formula One back in 2011. But it is one that he is accepting whole-heartedly.

“It definitely spurs me on,” he said to NBCSN’s Will Buxton during this weekend’s proceedings at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “The more I grow up and the more I stay in Formula One, the more I realize how much I want to do it – how much I want to be here, and how much I want to be the best.

“I want to measure myself against the best guys and the fact that [Vettel] is in the form of his life is so refreshing. If I can find a way to give him a bit of a push, it’s going to be a very rewarding feeling.”

For more of Buxton’s one-on-one interview with Ricciardo, check out the video above. Ricciardo will start ninth for tomorrow’s race from Abu Dhabi, which you can see live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 7:30 a.m. ET.

Valtteri Bottas fastest in Friday F1 practices for Russian Grand Prix

F1 Sochi Valtteri Bottas
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SOCHI, Russia — Valtteri Bottas paced both F1 practices Friday for the Russian Grand Prix on Friday as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was slowed by damaged tires in the first session.

Bottas turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 33.519 seconds in the second session that bettered Hamilton’s 1:33.786.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was more than a second behind Bottas in third at 1:34.577, followed by the McLaren Racing duo of Carlos Sainz Jr. (1:34.723) and Lando Norris (1:34.847).

In the first F1 session at Sochi, Valtteri Bottas set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 34.923 seconds, beating Ricciardo by half a second. Max Verstappen was third quickest in his Red Bull, a further 0.147 back.

Hamilton could only manage 19th fastest after locking up his tires and leaving them with a flat spot. Ferrari again struggled to find pace with Sebastian Vettel ninth and Charles Leclerc 11th.

HISTORY IN SIGHTLewis Hamilton aims to tie Michael Schumacher’s record

The first session was briefly red-flagged when Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams. Carlos Sainz Jr. spun his McLaren backward into a barrier and broke off his rear wing.

Verstappen spun during the second session but avoided damage to his car.