DANIEL Ricciardo’s bad luck at his home grand prix continued on Friday when a red flag for debris on the track halfway through his hot lap ruined his second practice session.
He was sixth fastest in P1 but finished with the seventh fastest time of the day as Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets.
The Aussie was outshone by Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, who was second fastest, while Hamilton’s Mercedes colleague Valtteri Bottas was third best.
Ricciardo was summoned to see the stewards for going too fast while the red flag was out and his day went from bad to worse when he was slapped with a three-spot grid penalty for Sunday’s race.
Although the Red Bull driver was, in the words of the stewards, found to have “slowed significantly” and “proceeded with due care”, he still did not stay above the mandatory minimum time set by the FIA in the final two mini sectors of the lap after the red flag was thrown mid-way through the session.
Ricciardo “admitted an error in reading his dash and was slightly below the minimum time”.
The normally-affable Aussie didn’t hold back when interviewed by Channel 10 on Saturday, saying he was still “pissed” at the ruling.
“I made a mistake, no doubt about it,” Ricciardo said. “But is that mistake worth a grid penalty in a practice session when no cars on track, no-one’s up side down, it was a cable on the track. I didn’t pass the incident. I just think common sense should have prevailed. I think it’s shithouse.”
Sky F1 pundit Ted Kravitz was also furious with the decision.
Talk about not seeing the bigger picture: The red flag was for a loose wire on the startline, not a crash, and Ricciardo wasn’t going to drive over it anyway as was coming into pits. Disproportionate 3 place grid penalty that cd take home driver out of contention for race win. pic.twitter.com/sEMKnpphuu
— Ted Kravitz (@tedkravitz) March 23, 2018
The penalty continues the 28-year-old’s curse at his home grand prix that has seen success repeatedly elude him.
Last year Ricciardo retired early in the race with a mechanical failure, he was disqualified in 2014 and in 2013 finished a lowly 19th. He’s yet to finish on the podium in Melbourne.
Speaking after the day’s action but before he knew of his penalty, Ricciardo said he wasn’t too concerned with finishing seventh because he knew he was on track to improve significantly in his second run before the red flag halted his progress. He was also hopeful wet weather would descend on Melbourne to close the gap between Red Bull and Mercedes.
“My time was four tenths up, compared to my soft,” he said. “If I held that, it would be a low 1m24s, so maybe P3/P4. The balance wasn’t perfect, so I wasn’t too bothered.
“We had quite a lot of understeer. It wasn’t going to jump to P1 (top spot) or anything like that, so we’ve still got a bit of work to do.
“It was not a bad day.
“I think tomorrow will be wet, so I don’t know how relevant today will be.
“We always enjoy some wet weather — it just evens everything out.
“Today in the dry we didn’t look too bad which is good, but the wet will give us a bit more a chance.”
But regardless of his fortunes at this weekend’s grand prix, chances are the question of where Ricciardo ends up in 2019 will remain unanswered.
The Aussie star — who is off contract at the end of this season — wants a world championship and wants to drive for a team who can offer the tools to achieve that. So far, Red Bull hasn’t been able to, but Mercedes or Ferrari might.
If the energy drink team can show Ricciardo it’s improved enough to challenge the two big dogs of the sport then he may well remain with the team where he’s made his mark — according to team boss Christian Horner.
As much as Horner wants to keep Ricciardo in the family, he’s adamant Red Bull can’t wait around forever.
“We are relatively relaxed because we have got some great options available to us. We want people and we want drivers that want to be in the team,” Horner said before Friday’s practice in Melbourne, per F1 journalist James Allen.
“It doesn’t feel right to have to go and force an issue, or to force a decision.
“Daniel knows what the position of the team is. We want to continue with him.
“The door is open but it won’t stay open forever. There will come a point in time that it is, ‘OK, it is either get off the fence or we will have to take up our own options.’”
Allen believes a move to Ferrari isn’t on the cards if its main player Sebastian Vettel is still performing because having two top drivers vying for the championship breeds friction and resentment — much like it did with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
“Ferrari is not an option for him if Vettel is performing well in the first half of this season,” Allen wrote. “Kimi Raikkonen is the ideal number two driver in that situation and Ricciardo going there would be a problem in the same way as Rosberg was a problem for Hamilton.”
It would be a similar problem if Ricciardo wanted to join Mercedes to partner Hamilton.
“For the same reason, Hamilton would not be keen to have Ricciardo alongside him, as it would be Rosberg Mark II; a driver who is too close for comfort and consistent across a season,” Allen wrote.
It all makes for an interesting subplot as the season develops and Ricciardo’s future will remain a talking point until he signs on the dotted line with Red Bull — or someone else.