By lap 43 of the Qatar Grand Prix, things were looking very bad indeed for Daniel Ricciardo.Lando Norris was nine places and 45 seconds up the road, having gained more than a second on him per lap. He’d just been overtaken by Valtteri Bottas in a damaged Mercedes running some way off the pace. What had gone wrong for the number three McLaren?
Ricciardo’s race got off to a difficult start. From 14th on the grid he lost two places at the first corner. “The actual launch wasn’t bad,” the McLaren driver explained after the race. “But there was Charles [Leclerc] and [Lance] Stroll and I think I was kind of in the middle and I basically couldn’t see turn one.
“If you can’t see, obviously when you’re towards the back it’s quite hard to see that far through the pack, so then you kind of look for the braking markers to get a reference on when to brake, and I just couldn’t see them. So I kind of stayed in it ’til as long as I thought and then I lifted and I ultimately just lifted way too early and then a lot of people I think on the outside had a clear run and went.”
That poor start left him 16th. But within a few laps he’d picked off the likes of George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi. From there on, however, he was unable to make any serious inroads into the points-paying positions.
The problem for the number three McLaren was fuel management. From an early stage in the race, Ricciardo was being told to hit surprisingly tough targets for conserving fuel, lifting and coasting more than usual.
“We were, quick enough, at one point, to get back in kind of position,” he explained. “And then we had fuel saving already. After the start, we had fuel saving from super-early in the race.”
The first sign came as early as lap 10, when Ricciardo queried a message on his dash with his race engineer Tom Stallard:
|10||Stallard||This fuel message, I guess it’s nothing?|
|10||Stallard||So fuel consumption is high, fuel consumption is high, it’s okay for the moment, fuel one perhaps.|
|13||Ricciardo||Okay. How’s my [lift-and-coast]?|
|13||Stallard||Okay Daniel, so what you’re doing for [lift-and-coast] is about fuel three like fuel three. I think we need fuel five, please fuel five.|
|15||Stallard||Purple C3 position two, purple C3 position two. Fuel saving you’re doing is good, that will change the dash slightly for that but fuel saving you’re doing good, keep that.|
|16||Stallard||How’s the tyre, how’s the tyre? Are you happy with target lap?|
|17||Ricciardo||So far yep. Just the fuel saving’s a little bit tricky with brakes.|
|17||Stallard||Fuel save last lap was good, that’s exactly what we need.|
|17||Ricciardo||Would going rearwards help the bite?|
|17||Stallard||Negative it’s fronts that are cold. Front brakes are cold.|
|17||Stallard||Suggest two clicks forward brake balance, two clicks forward.|
|18||Stallard||Blue harvest seven, blue harvest seven.|
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As Ricciardo lifted early before each corner and coasted in, his tyres and brakes began to drop in temperature, further compromising his lap times.
“I started doing what I thought was already a lot and it was not enough,” Ricciardo explained. “So Tom said you need to do more, it’s not enough and blah blah blah to a point where I think at times we were losing probably two seconds a lap fuel saving.
“With that, brakes get cold, tyres get cold and you lose grip as well. So it’s just kind of a downward spiral.”
Initially Ricciardo’s lap times were in the vicinity of his team mate’s. Norris was stuck behind Gasly until lap 12, then his soft tyres began to fade, though even as their pit stops approached Ricciardo wasn’t able to use his mediums to lap quicker than his team mate.
As Ricciardo’s pit stop neared, he advised his team he didn’t want to switch to the hard rubber. However the softs would have forced him towards a two-stop strategy instead of one, which would have compromised his race even further.
|24||Ricciardo||If we have to lift-and-coast I don’t like the hards.|
|24||Stallard||How many laps do you think you can do on this tyre?|
|24||Ricciardo||My left-front’s getting worse so I think it’ll last a few more but not far.|
|24||Stallard||Okay Daniel we need to push now, push now.|
|25||Stallard||You can finish the tyre.|
|25||Stallard||Okay Daniel we’re box this lap, box this lap.|
Both drivers had hard tyres for the second stint, Ricciardo’s a lap younger than his team mate’s, but he was still much slower. “We were fuel saving for a good half of the race and that just took us way, way out,” he said.
“It’s the most I’ve had to save and the earliest in the race I’ve ever had to save,” said Ricciardo, who told journalists after the race they could have lapped at the pace he was doing. “I was coasting into every corner and it was never enough.”
Eventually the team realised something in the system was giving them wrong information about how much fuel Ricciardo needed to save:
|31||Ricciardo||Do I still need all the [lift-and-coast]?|
|31||Stallard||Yes. Fuel saving from last lap is correct. You need to follow the dash.|
|31||Stallard||So target zero on the bottom number, target zero on the bottom number.|
|33||Stallard||Daniel try and push a little more on the reads, to push the rears a bit more. Lando last lap 28.5 on hard.|
|34||Stallard||Okay Daniel suggest yellow diff four, yellow diff for. Keep using right-hand-side toggle in the final corner and if it snaps again, use the mid rotary as well for the final corner, more mid switch.|
|35||Stallard||And slightly too much fuel last lap. Keep an eye on the bottom number, zero at the end of the lap.|
|35||Stallard||Suggest full lift turn 13 for fuel and tyres. Full lift turn 13. 13 and 14.|
|35||Ricciardo||I just lost so much time with [lift-and-coast]. Just kills all the balance.|
|36||Stallard||Understood. So we suggest a bigger lifts in high speed and the [lift-and-coast] you can reduce slightly.|
|36||Stallard||Suggest red mid six. Other cars struggling with fuel.|
|37||Stallard||Blue Harvest six, blue Harvest six and keep working the fuel. The severity, the top number, has got a bit worse, we need to keep that under control.|
|38||Stallard||Daniel I need full lift in turn nine and 13. Full lift in nine and 13 for fuel.|
|39||Stallard||Okay last lap was close on fuel, I need one percent more than that, one percent more than that.|
|39||Ricciardo||It’s just painful, so slow. I know I’ve got to do it, but just affects everything.|
|40||Stallard||Okay that’s Bottas behind you, you are racing him, overtake is available.|
|42||Ricciardo||Still says the number’s positive on the fuel. I don’t know how slower I can go.|
|42||Stallard||Okay Daniel you can use plus two at the end of lap on the bottom number. Plus two on the bottom number at the end of lap will be okay.|
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“I don’t know what happened, obviously the system or they got another reading, but then Tom said ‘alright no more, just push’,” Ricciardo recalled. “I said, ‘but wait, no fuel saving?’ He goes ‘no, just push’.
“So I was like, I’m so confused. It’s clearly something that’s gone wrong.”
Ricciardo immediately brought his lap times within a few tenths of what his team mate had been doing. But by this stage Norris had succumbed to a front-left puncture which, ironically, Ricciardo may well have been spared because he was driving so far within the car’s potential.
But with the next car of Pierre Gasly around half a minute up the road in 11th place, Ricciardo’s hopes of taking points were over.
|45||Stallard||Daniel use fuel one, fuel one, ignore the dash.|
|46||Stallard||Daniel you can do less fuel saving, just fuel one, less fuel saving. Car ahead is Bottas, he’s not fast 28.5 from Bottas, go get him.|
|47||Stallard||Okay Daniel no fuel save, no fuel save.|
|50||Stallard||Daniel I’ve seen three cars with front-left punctures. Where you can stay off the aggressive kerbs front-left, it’s not a bad idea.|
|50||Stallard||Obviously, you have to be realistic with lap time as well. I’ll leave that with you.|
|50||Ricciardo||So just to be clear, you don’t want fuel saving?|
|50||Stallard||Correct ignore the dash, just push.|
|51||Stallard||Daniel, Latifi’s that he’s had a puncture, he’s between five and six now, he’ll be turn six when you get there.|
|51||Stallard||Okay Latifi has parked the car exit of six. And Daniel we need to look after front left turn 12 to 14 and turn four five.|
|51||Ricciardo||Are we racing anyone ahead?|
|51||Stallard||Daniel the cars ahead are quite well ahead, but with the puncture risk, you want to be as fast as possible, just careful on the kerbs through here. The left-hand side kerbs, left-hand side kerbs.|
|Finish||Stallard||Okay. Daniel that’s the chequered flag. Can I have strat five, strat five. No recharge, ACS off, maximum fuel save. And white H8 position one, white H8 position one. Okay Daniel look after the fuel, should be okay now, look after the fuel on the in-lap. We’ve got some investigating to do with that. You finished P12, finishing order: Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, Perez, Ocon, Stroll, Sainz, Leclerc, Lando, Vettel, Gasly and yourself.|
|Finish||Ricciardo||Understood. Yeah, let’s discuss once we’re back.|
“It’s clearly a system error,” Ricciardo reflected after the race. “It’s a shame because when I could push, I felt the reference time I got at the time I was able to get, but we were at the mercy of an error today with the reading system.”