Daniel Ricciardo arrived at Red Bull in a blaze of promise and hope. On a Sunday afternoon in March, at his home grand prix, he honoured his part of the deal by taking second place and signalling his arrival as a championship contender. The locals swooned.
But no sooner had he towelled the champagne from his eyes and waved farewell to the Australian F1 fans cheering him from the Albert Park straight than the bad luck gripped his shoulder and awoke him from the dream.
His car had used more fuel than was allowed under new rules, sparking a controversy which saw the Aussie, famed for his smile, disqualified.
Red Bull appealed, arguing the fuel meter was faulty, but the stewards dismissed the claim, saying it was accurate and Ricciardo’s car had “exceeded constantly” the allowable fuel flow of 100kg per hour.
One week at a time
Disappointing, but there was always Malaysia in two weeks. If he could replicate the performance he had another shot at a podium finish.
And on a sweaty afternoon at Sepang, when he entered the pits in fourth place with just 15 laps to go, who could forgive him for thinking the wrongs of Melbourne were about to be made right.
If only the mechanics responsible for fitting his left front tyre had been of the same mind.
No sooner had the stop finished than Ricciardo found himself stranded in pit straight, shaking his head. The front wheel was not secured properly. The car, which can travel forwards at 300km/h, was pushed backwards by a team of men in jumpsuits at 5km/h, and a new wheel was affixed.
Bad luck has a habit of building momentum within some sportspeople. Ricciardo’s didn’t end there. The damage had been done, in this case to the front wing, forcing him to pit again on lap 53 and retire. He later discovered he’d been handed a 10-place penalty for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Cars are not allowed to go backwards in pit lane.
Bowed, but not beaten
After the race, the West Australian was circumspect.
“Deep down I am really disappointed but there is a bit in me which is happy because I have come out how I wanted to in the first two races.
“I want to improve but there are things to be pleased with.”
It is a horror start to the season. Two races have gone and Ricciardo doesn’t have a championship point. The F1 website has him in 22nd place out of 22 drivers. Starting amid the traffic in Bahrain, winning one there will be a challenge.
F1 is a sport in which avoiding bad luck is one of the main ingredients of success. When your bad luck comes from a fuel meter or a mechanic and not your own exit from a corner you can rightly argue that things will start going your way – eventually. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing and the results will come.
Sport history is littered with top class talent who just couldn’t get the stars to align. Injuries cruelled some, pressure others. What happened to golfer Ian Baker-Finch remains a mystery. Given the professionalism and success of the Red Bull team, however, it’s likely that these experiences will be remembered as teething problems for Ricciardo.
But if we see another few races with this sort of luck, who could forgive a young racer for starting to think the wrongs of Melbourne were a marker of things to come.