Renault’s midfield woes came back to haunt Daniel Ricciardo at the Austrian Grand Prix early Monday morning (AEST), with the Australian struggling as his former Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen enjoyed a stunning – if controversial – win.
Verstappen won the race after passing Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc in a risky, but ultimately deemed legal, pass on the inside with two laps to go on lap 71.
At Red Bull’s home race, the team was forced to wait three hours while stewards reviewed footage of the overtaking manoeuvre, which forced LeClerc wide and saw the pair bang wheels. It was ultimately deemed a ‘racing incident’.
“The second time I braked a little bit deeper in the corner. From my side this is racing, it is just hard racing,” Verstappen said after the race.
For his part, Leclerc pleaded that he’d been pushed wide and off the track.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the other Ferrari and championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who had his race compromised by a front-wing change mid-race.
It must all have been a bitter pill for Ricciardo, who left Red Bull at the end of last season to join Renault, while Red Bull switched from Renault engines to Honda.
Verstappen’s win was Honda’s first since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006 and the first in the hybrid engine era, suggesting more improvement in coming years.
Ricciardo still managed a grimacing smile for Verstappen when the pair crossed paths after the race, but said in a team statement that his car had been tricky and his own performance needed to improve.
“It was a tough weekend, for sure. From lap one today it was tricky and I struggled for grip. We improved as the race progressed, managed a decent stint on the Softs at the end, but it was probably a bit too late,” Ricciardo said.
“We need to figure out why this weekend was so tough.
There’s stuff we can improve, but I won’t put it all down to the car. I’ll look at myself and see what I can do better as well.
“Something wasn’t right this weekend and Nico [Hulkenberg] shared the same feelings too. We’ll do our best to figure it out and get on top of it.”
Renault’s team principal Cyril Abiteboul said the circuit had exposed “weaknesses” in the car.
“We need to identify if there was anything specific with set-ups or simply a feature of the chassis on which we must work.”
Ricciardo sits a meagre in 10th in the championship standings with a mere 10 points. On making the switch to Renault he would doubtless have expected to be midfield, but making better progress.
Meanwhile, his former teammate Verstappen’s win elevates him into third on 126, just three points ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton (197) and Bottas (166) still hold the top two placings.