For the first time in a long time Daniel Ricciardo is not smiling, and that is not a sight we are accustomed to seeing in the F1 paddock.
Since the dawn of time we have been used to a carefree, friendly Aussie with the infectious smile, dazzling everyone in his wake as he bounces around the paddock, but right now that happy exterior has gone, and mustering up the effort to break out a smile is just too much for the ‘honey badger’ to take.
The cause of the Australian’s downbeat manner, is being denied the possibility of winning his first grand prix of the season for the second time in a row, through errors made by the team that were beyond his own control. Two weeks ago in Spain, there was valid reasoning behind the strategy that took the race away from Ricciardo, his Red Bull Racing team deciding to cover off the three stop strategy that main challengers Scuderia Ferrari had switched Sebastian Vettel on to, whilst team-mate Max Verstappen stayed on the original two stop plan to evade Kimi Raikkonen.
It was perhaps not a necessary route to take, but something we see played out time and time again, in such a strategy driven sport. That, although it lost him the win, was a bitter pill that Ricciardo was able to swallow. Fast forward two weeks down the line however, and we have a similar story once again, but this time the Australian is finding it hard to forgive.
After leading the first part of the race with relative ease, carving out a thirteen second gap to Nico Rosberg in second place at one point, it was only when the Australian pitted for intermediate tyres that he dropped back behind the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS. With Lewis Hamilton now at the front, Ricciardo easily closed in on the Brit, who had stayed out on full wets for as long as he could manage. When Hamilton made his move to switch to the dry ultra-soft tyres, the Red Bull man stayed out a lap longer, to push hard so that when he made his own pit stop next lap around, he would emerge in the lead. The timing screens showed that Ricciardo had done enough, but a mix up with the tyres, which Red Bull claim were stuck at the back of the garage, cost him valuable time, thirteen seconds to be exact and any hope of winning the Monaco Grand Prix were now long gone.
After the race, the Red Bull Racing team confirmed that having originally planned to switch Ricciardo to a new set of the soft compound tyre, a split moment decision was made to move him onto a used set of the super-soft tyre from Q2 instead, having seen Mercedes bolt the ultra-soft compund onto Hamilton’s car. The team felt they had enough time to make the switch to the different tyre before Ricciardo made it to the pit box, but they were unfortunately wrong.
The Australian came out right behind Hamilton following the error, but with the difficulty of overtaking at such a tight track as Monaco, any attempt the Red Bull man made to get by, only resulted in him wearing out his tyres and dropping behind. The disappointment and utter dejection in Ricciardo’s eyes on that Monaco podium after the race, were visible for all to see, and the Australian expressed that he was unsure how to deal with the emotions welling up from such a calamitous error by his own team. Speaking in the post-race interview Ricciardo relayed his disappointment and realisation that wins in F1 were not going to come easily.
“I took Barcelona on the chin and then took it well but two in a row now, and it’s not like we’re in Mercedes’ position, we’re not able to win a race, so to have an opportunity to lead two races in a row and especially here in Monaco – to get it wrong twice definitely hurts.
“I’m not sure where we go from here, what to do.
“Obviously they’ve got to understand what’s going on and learn from it but this win I’ll never get back, that’s a fact.”
Having given it everything to first of all take pole position on Saturday, and then master the tricky conditions on the streets of Monte-Carlo on Sunday, Ricciardo was understandably deflated.
“I put it on the front and you wake up and you see thunderstorms and it’s like, OK, there’s a few curved balls coming my way but I felt I dealt with them as well as I could have and had the pace in the wet at the beginning and again I thought I was controlling everything I had to.
“Obviously a big part of it is relying on the team and the strategy but yeah, to get it wrong twice now it definitely hurts. I’m not sure where to go from here, what to do. Obviously they’ve got to understand what’s going on and learn from it but this win I’ll never get back, that’s a fact.
“I didn’t make the call. I didn’t make the late call. I got to the pits and everyone’s running around like headless ‘chooks’. Massively, massively disappointed. I don’t like being up here being miserable, because I got a podium in Formula One, so it should be a good day, but when it happens two weekends in a row it’s hard to take.”
But this is F1 and sh*t happens! You have to learn to deal with things not going your way. It is not only a team sport, but a sport that mixes machine and human input, and both at some point can be prone to fail.
People may have been surprised at Ricciardo’s outbursts, not that they do not understand where he is coming from, but that he has been somewhat ungracious in defeat. It just goes to show that even the most positive, and cheery of folk can be pushed to their limits!
Undoubtedly it was a big loss for the Australian, and it will be hard for him to just brush that aside, especially after being cheated of victory by his own team. But move on he will have to do, if he is to make headway from here. We all know what a talented and spirited driver Ricciardo is, sooner or later he will be blessed with the car that helps him realise his true potential.