Sebastian Vettel has weighed into the debate about his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification in Melbourne and the subsequent decision to appeal, saying that the episode is “bad for the sport”.
The four times champion was a spectator in Melbourne after retiring early in the race and congratulated his young team mate on a breakthrough performance.
But he said in the paddock in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday that the decision to remove the Australian from the standings because the Red Bull team did not follow the FIA’s instructions on reducing the fuel flow was “a big hit for the team and for Formula One”.
He added: “We had the race, Daniel did a fantastic job finishing second. The whole country [of Australia] was very happy and then a few hours later they take the second position away from him. From a driver’s point of view and a team point of view it hurts a lot. We need to see where the appeal goes, but if you look at the sport itself it’s always bad when these kinds of things happen.”
Red Bull’s appeal will be heard by the FIA Court of Appeal in Paris on April 14th. The team has indicated that this weekend it has acquired a number of new fuel flow sensors and will work with the FIA during the weekend to find one that is accurate to the satisfaction of both sides. A repeat of what happened in Australia is not ruled out, but it will be a case of seeing how well set up the teams are with accurate sensors after qualifying on Saturday.
Red Bull has carried out tests since Melbourne, observed by FIA staff, which show that their system was accurate and this is what has given them confidence that they will win the appeal. The appeal judges will have to assess, in other words, whether fuel flow sensors which are accurate to +/- 0.25 per cent are good enough and accurate enough for F1. Should the world’s most technically advance sport seek to do better?
Rival teams have pointed out that in these fine margins, there are real performance differences. Running at 0.5 per cent above the 100kg/hour flow rate for key parts of the race, for example, would make a difference of 1/10th of a second per lap to the overall race time.
Red Bull themselves estimate that if they had run as the FIA asked them to – with the troublesome sensor they used in practice together with the offset the FIA requested – that Ricciardo would have finished fifth.
The Australian driver, meanwhile, was his usual smiley and sanguine self, saying he took more positives than negatives from his performance in Melbourne. He added that he believes he can fight for the podium again here in Sepang.
“The team is appealing and fighting [the disqualification] because they believe it didn’t have any performance gain,” he said. “So we believe that the pace was still the same in any case. So yes, given that set-up goes well on Friday here I hope to be in the top three (in the race).”
Ricciardo said he was deeply disappointed when informed on Sunday night that he had lost his result, “I was like, blimey, really?” he joked. “It was a bit of a bummer. I was like, ‘Does this really have to happen now?’ Everything had gone as well as it could. We were never going to catch the Mercedes, but I did all I could, so in any case I was pleased with that.
“The team has a lot of faith in me, but there were probably still a few question marks until someone races at the front and gets the podium. So it was nice with all the pressure in Melbourne to show them that I can do this and that I’m ready to rumble!”
Although his target is the podium on Sunday here in Malaysia, Ricciardo was realistic about his chances of keeping the Mercedes-powered cars behind him on the two long straights in Sepang. In Melbourne he was clocked at 273km/h through the speed trap, compared to 308km/h for Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren. But it’s hard to pass in Melbourne, whereas a speed differential like that here will make him powerless to resist.
“Yeah, we know we are still a bit down on power and the Mercs are strong on the straights,” Ricciardo admitted. “We know it will hurt us here a little more than Melbourne, but I’ve heard from the factory and from Renault that they have made some progress, so hopefully we will have a few more horses in the car this weekend.”