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  • Writer's pictureKanzah Maktoum

Ricciardo’s Suzuka Setback

Suzuka is a notoriously gritty circuit—a slight mistake can have monumental consequences. For Daniel Ricciardo, it was a race where he needed to keep his nose clean, but it was one that turned into a test of perseverance.

This Japanese Grand Prix weekend saw another woeful one for the Australian. A shift to the right on the entry of the esses saw him tag the Williams of Alex Albon, sending both of them into the tyre wall. Ricciardo was covering a potential attack from Lance Stroll on his left and did not notice Albon’s overtake attempt on the right.

The Australian had started on the medium compound tyre, one that seemed to have him struggling for grip, and the tag had finished his race before he even completed lap one.

This season hasn’t unfolded as smoothly as anticipated for Ricciardo. The Australian’s comeback last year sent excitement when he replaced Nyck de Vries mid-season after the Dutchman failed to score points in his 10-race stint. His infectious smile, cheeky spirit, and daring overtakes were sorely missed in the paddock.

The eight-time Grand Prix winner raised expectations after his Pirelli tyre test with Red Bull at Silverstone, where he showcased a competitive pace close to teammate Max Verstappen’s pole time. After a rusty start in the test where he spun off twice in the initial lap, too eager on the throttle, Ricciardo’s performance was impressive enough that shortly after he was announced to replace de Vries.

“We put FP2 fuel [levels] in the car. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The first timed lap I did was on the money. Take the fuel out to put it to quali fuel and it was a few hundredths off Max’s pole time,” said Ricciardo on the Beyond the Grid Podcast.

And coming off the high expectations, his grand prix wins, and his experience in multiple teams, Ricciardo was expected by many to beat teammate Yuki Tsunoda. However, this season, Tsunoda has out-qualified the Australian in all four races.

Most recently, despite regaining his pace after giving rookie driver Ayumu Iwasa an opportunity during FP3, Ricciardo was eliminated from Q2 before Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix by his Red Bull teammate.

While Ricciardo’s race finishes have been competitive, Tsunoda remains the sole points scorer for the Faenza-based team this season, with a 7th-place finish in Australia and a 10th place in Japan, becoming the first Japanese driver to score points on home soil since Kamui Kobayashi in 2012.

1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill believes Ricciardo may be too particular about his car setup compared to Tsunoda’s adaptability. He said on the F1 Nation podcast,

“Someone like Yuki has been told: ‘You’ve got to drive it, this is what it is.’ He’s just getting on with it and Daniel’s looking for something else.”
“It’s a little bit unfair to diminish Yuki’s performance because we assume Daniel should be beating him…I think Tsunoda has moved on leaps and bounds.”

A streak of bad luck isn’t new to the Australian, and he has proven before the grit he has to get through it. However, the pressure intensifies with the presence of young talent like Liam Lawson. Last year, Lawson jumped into the car after Ricciardo broke his hand in a practice session during the Dutch Grand Prix weekend. Lawson even managed to score points at the Singapore Grand Prix, finishing 10th.

The pressure is on, and it seems like there might be another round of Red Bull merry-go-round awaiting us. Lawson has already proven his maturity, his capabilities. For Racing Bulls, it is a chance to think about securing a solid driver in their lineup and for the future before another team sweeps the New Zealander off.

Although concerns similar to what transpired at McLaren may arise, we’re only four races into the season. Formula 1 is brutal, and Red Bull is no exception. Ricciardo is slated for a new chassis for the Chinese Grand Prix, and eyes are definitely on the Australian to extract those crucial extra tenths.

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