At round 43 of the Qatar Grand Prix, things looked very bad for Daniel Ricciardo.
Teammate Lando Norris was nine places and 45 seconds up the road, after winning more than a second on him per. lap. He had just been overtaken by Valtteri Bottas in a damaged Mercedes driving a bit out of pace. What had gone wrong for number three McLaren?
Ricciardo’s race got off to a difficult start. From 14th place, he lost two places at the first corner. “The actual launch was not bad,” the McLaren driver explained after the race. “But there was Charles [Leclerc] and [Lance] Go for a walk and I think I was a little in the middle and I could hardly see the first half.
“If you can not see, it’s obviously quite difficult to see so far through the pack when you’re behind, so you look a little at the brake markers to get a reference to when to brake, and I just could not see them. So I kind of stayed in it, until as long as I thought, and then I lifted, and in the end I just lifted way too early, and then a lot of people, I think on the outside, had a clear run and went.
The bad start left him 16. But within a few laps he had chosen people like George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi. From there, however, he was unable to make any serious dent in the point-paying positions.
The problem for McLaren number three was fuel management. From an early stage in the race, Ricciardo was told to hit surprisingly hard goals to save fuel, lift and free run more than usual.
“We were fast enough at one point to come back in terms of position,” he explained. “And then we already had fuel savings. After the start, we had fuel savings from super early in the race.”
The first sign came already on the 10th lap when Ricciardo asked for a message on his dash with his racing engineer Tom Stallard:
|10||Stallard||This fuel message, it’s nothing, is it?|
|10||Stallard||So fuel consumption is high, fuel consumption is high, it’s okay at the moment, fuel one maybe.|
|13||Ricciardo||Okay. How am I? [lift-and-coast]?|
|13||Stallard||Okay Daniel, so what are you doing for [lift-and-coast] is about fuel three as fuel three. I think we need fuel five, please fuel five.|
|15||Stallard||Little C3 position two, little C3 position two. Fuel saving you do is good, it will change the line a bit for it, but fuel saving you do well, keep it.|
|16||Stallard||How is the tire, how is the tire? Are you happy with the target lap?|
|17||Ricciardo||So far yes. Just the fuel economy is a little bit tricky with brakes.|
|17||Stallard||The fuel savings last time were good, that’s exactly what we need.|
|17||Ricciardo||Would going backwards help on the bite?|
|17||Stallard||Negatively, it is fronts that are cold. The front brakes are cold.|
|17||Stallard||Suggest two clicks forward brake balance, two clicks forward.|
|18||Stallard||Blue autumn seven, blue autumn seven.|
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As Ricciardo lifted himself early before each turn and rolled in, his tires and brakes began to drop in temperature, further compromising his lap times.
“I started doing what I thought was already a lot, and it wasn’t enough,” Ricciardo explained. “So Tom said you have to do more, that’s not enough, and blah blah blah to a point where I sometimes think we lost enough two seconds of fuel savings at times.
“That way, the brakes get cold, the tires get cold, and you also lose traction. So it’s just a kind of downward spiral.”
In the beginning, Ricciardo’s lap times were close to his teammate. Norris was stuck behind Gasly until lap 12, after which his soft tires began to fade, though Ricciardo was unable to use his media to round faster than his teammate, even as their pit stop approached.
As Ricciardo’s pitstop approached, he told his team he did not want to switch to the hard rubber. However, the softs would have forced him into a two-stop strategy instead of one, which would have compromised his race even more.
|24||Ricciardo||If we’re going to lift-and-coast, I do not like the hard.|
|24||Stallard||How many laps do you think you can drive on this tire?|
|24||Ricciardo||My left front is getting worse, so I think it holds a few more, but not far.|
|24||Stallard||Okay Daniel we have to push now, push now.|
|25||Stallard||You can finish the tire.|
|25||Stallard||Okay Daniel we box this round, box this round.|
Both drivers had hard tires for the second lap, Ricciardo is a lap younger than his teammate, but he was still much slower. “We saved fuel for a good half of the race and it took us just a little 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 reporters after the race that they could have run at the pace he was driving. “I ran into every corner and it was never enough.”
Eventually, the team realized that something in the system was giving them incorrect information about how much fuel Ricciardo should save:
|31||Ricciardo||Do I still need all that [lift-and-coast]?|
|31||Stallard||Yes. Fuel savings from the last lap are correct. You must follow the line.|
|31||Stallard||Then measure zero on the bottom number, measure zero on the bottom number.|
|33||Stallard||Daniel try to push a little more on the readings to push the butt a little more. Lando last lap 28.5 on hard.|
|34||Stallard||Okay Daniel suggests yellow difference four, yellow difference to. Keep using the right rocker switch in the last corner, and if it clicks again, use the middle rotary knob for the last corner as well, more center switch.|
|35||Stallard||And a little too much fuel last time. Keep an eye on the bottom number, zero at the end of the round.|
|35||Stallard||Suggest full lift turn 13 for fuel and tires. Full lift turn 13. 13 and 14.|
|35||Ricciardo||I’ve just lost so much time with [lift-and-coast]. Just kills the whole balance.|
|36||Stallard||Understood. So we suggest a bigger lift at high speed and that [lift-and-coast] you can reduce a little.|
|36||Stallard||Suggest red mid six. Other cars are struggling with fuel.|
|37||Stallard||Blue harvest six, blue harvest six and continue working on the fuel. The level of difficulty, the top number, has gotten a little worse, we have to keep that under control.|
|38||Stallard||Daniel I need full lift in turns nine and 13. Full lift in nine and 13 for fuel.|
|39||Stallard||Okay last time was close to fuel, I need one percent more than that, one percent more than that.|
|39||Ricciardo||It’s just painful, so slow. I know I have to do it, but it just affects everything.|
|40||Stallard||Okay, it’s Bottas behind you, you’re driving around him, overtaking is available.|
|42||Ricciardo||Still saying the number is positive on the fuel. I do not know how slower I can go.|
|42||Stallard||Okay Daniel, you can use plus two at the end of the round on the bottom number. Plus two on the bottom number at the end of the round will be fine.|
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“I do not know what happened, apparently the system or they got another read, but then Tom said ‘okay no more, just push’,” Ricciardo remembered. “I said, ‘but wait, no fuel savings?’ He says ‘no, just push’.
“So I was like, ‘I’m so confused. It’s definitely something that has gone wrong.”
Ricciardo immediately brought his lap times within a few tenths of what his teammate had done. But by this time, Norris had succumbed to a front-left puncture, which ironically may well have been spared Ricciardo because he was driving so far within the car’s potential.
But with the next car by Pierre Gasly about half a minute on the road in 11th place, Ricciardo’s hope was to take points past.
|45||Stallard||Daniel uses fuel one, fuel one, ignores the dashboard.|
|46||Stallard||Daniel you can save less fuel, just fuel one, less fuel savings. Car in front is Bottas, he is not fast 28.5 from Bottas, take him.|
|47||Stallard||Okay Daniel saves no fuel, no fuel savings.|
|50||Stallard||Daniel I have seen three cars with punctures in front left. Where you can stay away from the aggressive curbs in front of the left, it’s not a bad idea.|
|50||Stallard||Obviously, you also need to be realistic with the lap time. I’ll leave that with you.|
|50||Ricciardo||So to be clear, you do not want fuel savings?|
|50||Stallard||Correctly ignore the line, just press.|
|51||Stallard||Daniel, Latifi is that he’s got a puncture, he’s between five and six now, he’s turning six when you get there.|
|51||Stallard||Okay Latifi has parked the car exit at six. And Daniel, we have to take care of the front left turn 12 to 14 and turn four five.|
|51||Ricciardo||Are we driving someone in front?|
|51||Stallard||The Daniel cars in front are pretty good up front, but with the risk of punctures you want to be as fast as possible, just be careful on the curbs through here. Left edge edges, left edge edges.|
|Exit||Stallard||Okay. Daniel it’s the checkered flag. Can I get strat five, strat five. No recharging, ACS off, maximum fuel saving. And white H8 position 1, white H8 position 1. Okay Daniel take care of the fuel, it should be okay now, take care of the fuel on in-lap. We have some research to do with that. You completed P12, final order: Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso, Perez, Ocon, Stroll, Sainz, Leclerc, Lando, Vettel, Gasly and yourself.|
|Exit||Ricciardo||Understood. Yes, let’s discuss when we’re back.|
“It’s definitely a system error,” Ricciardo reflected after the race. “It’s a shame, because when I could push, I felt the reference time I was given at the time I was able to get, but we were at fault for a mistake today with the reading system.”
2021 Qatar Grand Prix
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