Daniel Ricciardo’s bad Saturday turned into a terrible Sunday at Albert Park when he failed to make it to the start line for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
Although his team managed to get his car working so he could get onto the track a couple of laps after the start, he was forced out for good when the engine failed halfway through the race.
The good news for Formula One fans was that the opening race of the 2017 championship saw the return of Ferrari as a serious challenger to Mercedes, the dominant team for the past three years with 51 wins from 59 races.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who hadn’t won a race since the Singapore GP two-thirds of the way through the 2015 season, took the chequered flag in Melbourne for the second time.
Lewis Hamilton, who had secured his fourth successive pole position in Melbourne and sixth overall, again failed to turn that into a victory, having been beaten by now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg in 2014 and 2016.
Hamilton finished ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, with the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and Ricciardo’s teenage Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen rounding out the top five.
“It’s a long way ahead, but for now, we’re over the moon,” Vettel said after the trophy presentation.
“It’s been a hard winter and an incredible race today.
“I wasn’t entirely happy with the start … I was a bit too nervous,” the four-time world champion admitted.
“I was really trying to keep the pressure on … and got a bit lucky when Lewis came out (from his pit stop) in traffic.”
Vettel’s 43rd grand prix victory was all but sealed when he pitted after Hamilton, on lap 24, and came out of the pits ahead of his Mercedes rival.
The new regulations, resulting in wider, faster cars, appear to have helped Ferrari catch up to Mercedes.
After Vettel recorded three wins in 2015, the Ferraris had fallen off the pace in the second half of 2016.
Vettel and Raikkonen recorded nine podium finishes in the first nine races – but no wins – then managed only two third placings in the remaining 12 GPs.
But winter testing in Europe indicated that the celebrated Italian prancing horse marque had found some pace.
Red Bull Racing, on the other hand, had remained off the pace throughout testing and then practice this weekend, and will now be playing catch-up before the next grand prix in China in a fortnight.
A crash in final qualifying late on Saturday had already dropped Ricciardo to 10th place on the grid, before the Red Bull team was forced to replace the car’s gearbox, incurring a five-place penalty.
But Ricciardo didn’t even take his spot on the grid as an electronic sensor issue saw the car get stuck in sixth gear on the outlap, where the drivers come out of the pits and circulate once to take up their grid positions.
He hitched a ride back to the pits in a vehicle rescue truck, hopeful that his mechanics might be able to reset the sensor and remedy the problem that had seen him pull over only a short distance around the Albert Park circuit 23 minutes before the race was due to start.
📻 RED BULL: "Sorry mate – the car's done"
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 26, 2017
To the cheers of the Melbourne crowd, Ricciardo joined the race from the pits as the rest of the field was on its third lap. It had been little more than half an hour from the time he had stopped out on the track.
Sadly, his time on the track didn’t last much longer, and it appeared that as he was downshifting to take turn three on lap 29, the engine simply died.
“I feel bad for everyone. I believe there’s more people here supporting me than the others and I’m sure they would have loved me to get out there and race,” Ricciardo said.
“I think if I’m going to look on the bright side, Max seems to be doing a relatively good pace so maybe we can learn something from his race today and, as a team, move on.”