Daniel Ricciardo declared himself in good shape on his latest return to F1 but refused to use his absence as an excuse for his qualifying performance for the United States Grand Prix.
Following a five-race absence after breaking a metacarpal in his left hand – confirming to Speedcafe he sustained seven fractures that required eight screws – Ricciardo will start Sunday's race at the Circuit of the Americas from 15th in his AlphaTauri.
The 34-year-old Australian finished just under three-tenths of a second behind team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, who lines up in 11th, leaving him content to a certain degree.
Asked by Speedcafe about his hand on his competitive comeback since his crash in practice for the Dutch GP that caused the damage, Ricciardo said: “The result has nothing to do with the hand, so that's a positive.
“Look, there's probably adrenaline and stuff as well but that's why I didn't go to Qatar. I wanted to just get on the sim and do four days, pretty much in a row.
“I just told them (the team) ‘Leave me in the car, I'll drive until I'm tired or sore', so I know it's good, and I'm thankful for that.
“I wish the result was better but the hand's good.”
Ricciardo, who initially only raced in Hungary and Belgium before the summer break after taking over the race seat from the sacked Nyck de Vries, also feels physically fit, with the conditions testing enough as temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius.
“I've only had two races of race fitness but I was pretty good,” said Ricciardo. “Obviously, it's hot, it's a physical track.
“I've been thrown in the deep end in a way, but I feel like I got through it pretty well.
“I will try and work on some things overnight, but you can't change the cars. They're in parc fermé but we can still learn.”
The AT04 is also a different car to the one last driven by Ricciardo given it has enjoyed a range of updates.
In many respects, he is having to re-learn the car, and can already sense where it is still lacking and the direction AlphaTauri now has to take to improve its performance.
“Definitely this morning (in practice), I felt I got up to speed,” said Ricciardo. “In the first couple of laps, I was there and feeling confident. That was a sign the car has improved.
“It was hard with only one (practice) session, but through qualifying, I felt like it got to a point where the harder I pushed or the faster I tried to go, it just wouldn't quite hang on anymore. I felt like we did plateau a little bit.
“I feel like we've got to a place where we're still trying to look for more in the car when we really lean on it.
“It's obviously very high speed this circuit, especially the first sector, and with these temperatures, putting a lot of energy through the tyres, we probably still need some more downforce to keep the car sticking.
“In a way, of course, I don't know the car incredibly well yet, so I think updates or not, there's still a lot for me to just get out there and drive and see what happens.
“But it was fine. I don't really blame any of the performance on my absence, just maybe a little bit more from a setup point of view, just knowing where the car was going to be in quali once we really started pushing on it.”