A SERIES of events affected Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of a podium finish at yesterday’s Japanese F1 Grand Prix and the popular Perth driver ended up in sixth place.
The race on the fast Suzuka circuit was easily won by Nico Rosberg after Mercedes teammate and defending champion Lewis Hamilton had a horror start that dropped him from second on the grid to eighth by the end of the first lap.
By contrast, Ricciardo’s young Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen had a brilliant start to slot in behind Rosberg, and that’s where he stayed for the duration.
Rosberg’s win extended his championship lead to 33 points with just four more grands prix to be run.
But that could change, pending the outcome of a protest from Mercedes over Verstappen’s defensive move when Hamilton tried to overtake in the chicane on the second last of the 53 laps.
Verstappen effectively closed the door and Hamilton had to steer down the escape road to prevent a collision.
It looked a legitimate move, but Mercedes still posted a protest.
“The team gave me a really strong strategy, along with a car that felt very balanced so I was able to enjoy a successful race,” Verstappen said.
“I was really happy to be able to get in between the two Mercedes for a great result for the team.”
Ricciardo started from fifth on the grid, which put him on the wet side of the track, and he had to swerve around the slow-starting Hamilton, a move that allowed Sergio Perez to get past in his Force India.
Then Sebastien Vettel shot past in his Ferrari, but teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Ricciardo had a long battle for fifth place, with Ricciardo leading until a fateful pitstop.
It took three seconds longer than expected due to a stuck wheel, gifting the place to the Finn.
“Today just wasn’t my day,” Ricciardo said.
“We struggled to stay close to the cars in front and we didn’t have the straight line speed to make an attack.
“I’m not going to get too down about it. It was just circumstances and how the race panned out.”
Despite his poor start, Hamilton did well to make it to the podium and could have passed Verstappen had he made his attack earlier.
He was catching the Red Bull by more than a second a lap, but when he caught up with it, he inexplicably stayed behind and made just one ill-timed attempt at passing.
Vettel was fourth for Ferrari, ahead of teammate Raikkonen, Ricciardo was sixth, followed by the Force Indias of Perez and Nico Hulkenberg and ninth and 10th were the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
Next race is the US Grand Prix at Austin on October 23.