After the roller-coaster of emotions suffered at his home race two weeks prior, Sunday at the Malaysian Grand Prix wasn’t much better for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian has certainly impressed in his opening two races at the Red Bull team yet, as his exclusion from the first race remains under appeal, he has failed to scored a point as bad luck continues to strike.
At Sepang, Ricciardo may not have matched the highs he achieved in Melbourne, but, he was still soundly in the top five for much of the weekend and keeping his four-time world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel more than honest.
His race began on a very bright note as he forced his way around the outside of Vettel at turn two at the start to move up into what was then third place.
As DRS was enabled Vettel was able to re-pass Ricciardo into turn one but still the 24-year-old ran comfortably in fourth place for much of the race.
However problems with the fuel-flow sensor would once again hit forcing him onto a predetermined rate permitted by the FIA, this would seemingly slow him down a little and indeed he was falling back quite quickly from Vettel before the ‘main event’ that would eventually end his day.
Pitting for the final time to take on fresh tyres Ricciardo’s front-left tyre was not attached properly as the red light on the Red Bull pit gantry went out to signify he could leave. He was forced to stop as the mechanics chased down to push him back and finally he was sent out after over 100 seconds in the pit-lane.
As is obligatory now in F1 any car released without all four wheels properly attached are given a 10 second stop/go penalty but in that time his front wing had dislodged coming through turn 14.
Eventually, after five pit-stops and running a long way behind in last, Red Bull decided to retire the car to save the engine and gearbox.
So, through no fault of his own, once again Ricciardo saw a strong points finish taken away from him by a team mistake.
To add insult to injury a ten-place grid drop has also been awarded by the stewards for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Some of his trademark smile was still noticeable however when he spoke to Reuters after the race and assessed his season so far.
“Deep down I’m really disappointed but at the same time there’s a little bit in me which is happy because I think I’ve come out how I wanted to,” he told correspondent Patrick Johnson.
“I still want to improve but we’ve started off on the right foot. So for that I’m pleased. I know a little bit of luck will turn around soon and I’ll get my revenge and get some points.”
Speaking about the move he made on Vettel at the start, Ricciardo was keen to point out the happy, smiling guy everyone sees off-track is not the same one on it.
“A lot of people probably don’t expect it because I’m always the happy guy and smiling and they think I’m too nice for that,” he said, “but I’m here to race and I love racing up the front.
“It’s been a privilege but a lot of fun the last couple of rounds to do it. It’s a bit addictive. You’ll see me up there plenty of times this year,” he added.
Despite the troubles he has faced so far, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner remained full of praise for his newest recruit.
“Daniel was fantastic today,” he told reporters.
“Everything we have seen of Daniel has been enormously impressive and the way he handles adversity, the way he handled today, it didn’t go his way, he gets out of the car and has a smile on his face and he knows it will come right.”
Certainly it has not been the easiest birth of Ricciardo at the front of the grid, and some will draw immediate comparisons to his predecessor Mark Webber, but in many ways having this kind of start could be beneficial for him.
For some drivers to come straight in and win or achieve nothing but success can make them complacent, for Daniel to come in and meet the harsh reality of racing at the top of F1 will only benefit his character and mentality because, as he has proven, he certainly has the talent.
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