“I’m not sure where we go from here, what to do.
“I was controlling everything I had to. Obviously a big part of it is relying on the team and the strategy. They’ve got to understand what’s going on and learn from it but this win I’ll never get back, that’s a fact.”
Sport can be very cruel sometimes and I’ll never forget the disappointment for Daniel Ricciardo when the Red Bull team’s errors in strategy and also pit stop discipline cost him a certain Monaco Grand Prix win from pole, two years ago.
He said he felt he had been ‘screwed’ by the team; but it’s important to remember that this came two weeks after the team had given him the less favourable strategy in Spain and other win had been lost, to his team mate Max Verstappen.
He has won since, but it’s striking that his stunning Chinese GP win last Sunday was the opposite, the correction, to everything that was wrong about Monaco 2016.
The strategy was on point, the team being very bold when the Safety Car came out and having better tyre performance forecasts than the rivals.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about the automated elements of pit stops and unsafe releases after the difficulties encountered by Ferrari in Bahrain. But the pit stop is still a very human process and one where the team’s discipline is so important.
The Red Bull guys were completely gutted in 2016 on the way home from Monaco. They didn’t have the tyres ready for Ricciardo when he pitted from intermediates to slicks.
The team was resetting from a Verstappen stop when the call was made to bring Ricciardo in.
There are two tyre sets ready for each driver on a rack in the garage at any given time in the race.
The problem was that, because the pit wall in Monaco is above the garage, rather than looking into it, the strategy team missed a simple step in the process, which is to confirm that the tyre set they wanted – a new Supersoft – was actually in the garage. It was in fact around the back.
Everything perfect from the people behind the scenes
We focus often on the drivers and their execution, as well as the strategists, who are often exposed and vulnerable in their decision making. They are aiming at a moving target. Get it wrong and all the armchair experts around the world have a comment ready on your mistake.
But the mechanics practice pit stops over and over, both at the factory and during the race weekend and the team managers have to review every error and detail to find a solution or a workaround.
Just like the car is constantly developed and iterated, so the processes around key procedures like the pit stops are meticulously worked on.
They push the car in for practice stops, so it’s hard to practice double stops. They have an exact measure of the gap needed to pull off a double stop, without it losing the second car valuable race time and track positions.
The doubly sweet element of Ricciardo’s win as far as the boys on the shop floor were concerned is that they pulled off two double stops in China and Ricciardo was the second car in both cases.
We move on very quickly in F1 and who knows, maybe Red Bull will have a bad day on strategy or pit stops in Baku next weekend.
But credit where it’s due. Ricciardo didn’t know how to move on after Monaco 2016. He felt the pain of an individual let down by his team.
China was payback time. Who knows whether he will stay with the team or move on to Mercedes or Ferrari in 2019. But that was one win achieved as a team and it will take a long time and lots of bad days to erase that memory of what it’s like when everything works.
All photos: Motorsport Images
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