It never (Bah)rains but it pours for Ricciardo

For this weekend’s Bahraini Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has been awarded a 10-place grid penalty for something that was completely out of his control.

On lap 41 of the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend, the Australian was released from his pit box before the front-left wheel was properly fastened with its wheel nut. The blunder was categorically not the Red Bull new boy’s fault (as some have incorrectly cited) but in fact the mistake of the traffic light operator, who signals to the driver when they should leave the pit box.

Imagine the scenario. You roll in for a pit stop. You’re immersed in carbon fiber, deafened by the engine, and surrounded by a blur of hands and wheels. You can’t really see what’s going on in a pit stop, and in the crucial 3-or-so seconds, have to rely, nay, depend on your team. Green means go, and Daniel was shown the green light and duly set off, but it was clear that something was wrong.

After the botched stop, the front wing failed of its own accord, breaking loose of its mounting pylons and worsening his situation. That had to be replaced, and then he served a ten-second stop/go penalty for an unsafe release. Retirement followed with just six laps to go, but that wasn’t enough for the Stewards who decided to add insult to injury by ruining his race in Bahrain with a 10-place grid penalty.

The problem here is not just Red Bull’s blunders costing their driver, but the actual regulations. As just clarified, there is no way Daniel Ricciardo can be at blame for an unsafe release; it’s simply not his fault. So why on earth does it warrant a 10-place grid penalty? The team should be penalised, not the driver.

It’s impossible to tell whether Ricciardo would have kept up with Vettel in Sepang, but there were just 16 laps to go. Hypothetically, let’s say he would have maintained fourth – that’s 12 points. 12 in Malaysia and 18 in Australia equals 30, a total that would put him second in the drivers’ Championship behind man of the moment Nico Rosberg.

Red Bull had better order a BIG box of chocolates.

Pit stops in 2014 have thus far been marginally slower than those of recent seasons, with teams preferring to play it safe. In 2013, the sport was treated to the first ever sub-2 second pit stop, performed on, incidentally, Ricciardo’s predacessor Webber. It’s thought that sacrificing the extra 0.5-0.8 of a second gained during a lightning quick stop is a much better deal than potentially losing over half a minute, and upwards of 8 positions on track. The Australian was well aware of this, commenting:

“If it means [the pit crew] taper off a little at the pit stops to be safe then the time loss is going to be much less.”

The Red Bull fiasco in Sepang cost poor Ricciardo a mammoth ten positions, dropping him from a handsome 12 point-paying 4th place, to a down-and-out 14th. Of course, being Red Bull’s Australian driver often has its troughs, as Webber would testify.

As you most likely know, Ricciardo recorded an emphatic 2nd place finish in his home race on his Red Bull debut, only to have it cruelly snatched away due to the fuel-flow sensor being illegally replaced by Red Bull, who favoured their own software over the FIA-mandated one. It’s worth noting that Ricciardo was not informed of this change, and so Malaysia was the second race in a row where his team cost him extremely dear.

Don’t expect his miles of smiles to be lacking in Bahrain, though. He demonstrated his unshakeable upbeat attitude by saying:

“It’s a pretty severe penalty – getting the 10-place for the following race. Human error does happen though, so that’s fine, and I’ve definitely moved on.”

Charlie Eustice

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