Daniel Ricciardo’s comeback after a long injury layoff started with promise and ended in frustration in Austin, damage from debris wedging itself into his Scuderia AlphaTauri machine seeing him freefall to 17th place in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, which became 15th when Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) were disqualified following the race.
Ricciardo, who admitted to some rust as he returned to action in Texas after breaking his left hand in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix in August, finished 12th in Saturday’s Sprint, but more looked possible for the 56-lap Grand Prix after he nursed his medium tyres to jump to seventh on lap 20, when he made what was to be his only scheduled pit stop for the race.
Ricciardo knew something was amiss soon afterwards when his lap times on new hard tyres were equivalent to those he was managing on worn mediums, and he was forced to make a late pit stop on lap 47 for soft tyres as his pace plummeted, a mechanic ripping out a piece of his own left front brake shroud from his front wing at the stop.
Armed with soft tyres, Ricciardo then set the fastest lap of the entire race on lap 49, only for that to be usurped by teammate Yuki Tsunoda on the final lap of the race, Tsunoda finishing 8th.
“I hate saying we were a passenger, but honestly we were a passenger, really, for the second half the race,” Ricciardo said.
“I had some damage – after I put the hard tyre on we started dropping off really quickly. Our (lap) times were pretty much the same as the old medium (tyres), and the team spotted some damage on the front left. Originally they thought it was contact with (Aston Martin’s Lance) Stroll, but I don’t think we touched. We lost a lot of pace, and it was a struggle after that – we weren’t in the race at all and just circulating, not doing much.
“The beginning was not too bad. With the medium (tyre) the pace seemed fairly close and fairly relative to at least Yuki and the cars around us. I think considering we were going longer in that stint, we were tracking pretty good.”
Ricciardo qualified 15th on Friday, finding the car had changed considerably from the last time he drove it at Zandvoort and admitting he could have used more than a single practice session before qualifying, the changed format before all six Sprint events this season.
“I don't like saying it because I'm very experienced, but this year … not so experienced,” he said after Saturday’s Sprint.
“Obviously I'm always trying to push and be hard on ourselves, but I don't want to be too intense, as we are all still pretty inexperienced working together. But the feeling I got behind the wheel and stuff — I think it was a more positive weekend than negative and better than it looks on paper.”
Daniel's United States Grand Prix by the numbers
- Sprint (19 laps): Started 10th, finished 12th
- Race (56 laps): Started 15th, finished 15th
- Fastest lap: 1min 39.366secs (2nd), lap 49
- Points this event: 0
- Points this season: 0 (22nd in world championship)