Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo endured a nightmare home race as he was forced to retire from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
The Australian race had high hopes of making his mark on the first day of the new F1 season, but the weekend was a bit of a nightmare as he crashed in qualifying and was then forced out on lap 26 due to technical issues.
There was better news for Ricciardo’s team-mate for the Milton Keynes-based Red Bull outfit, with Max Verstappen claiming fifth place and 10 points.
Ricciardo’s race began to go wrong before the start.
Overnight the team had replaced the gearbox of his RB13 following his crash in qualifying. That earned the Aussie a five-place grid penalty and he was set to start 15th on the grid.
However, close to the end of his lap to the grid before the race start he slowed and pulled over, radioing through to say he had a problem and that the car was stuck in sixth gear.
The car was recovered to the garage and the crew began to work frantically to get the RB13 repaired so that Ricciardo could start from the pit lane. They were afforded a little more time when there appeared to be confusion about grid slots as the rest of the field formed up following the stoppage and the start had to be aborted.
After another formation lap the race finally got underway.
At the front, Mercedes Lewis Hamilton held his advantage, taking P1 through Turn One. He was followed by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen, who had held on to his fifth place position from the grid.
As the field swarmed around the circuit and crossed the line to complete the first lap, Ricciardo’s car was at last fired up and the Aussie steered the RB13 into pit lane and into the action.
Early in the race and one incident already leading to damage to rivals, Ricciardo might have hoped for a safety car period in order to get back on terms with the rest of the field but the Australian was once again out of luck and as the race continued it became clear that his afternoon was set to be one of toil and testing rather than miraculous recovery.
The mission to put mileage on the car was ended, however, on lap 26. This time a fuel cell issue caused a power loss and Daniel was forced to pull over and retire from the race.
Earlier the race had taken a decisive turn when Hamilton made his first pit stop on lap 17. The Briton took on soft tyres but emerged behind an immovable Verstappen.
Hamilton’s pit wall were quickly on the radio to tell him that passing Max was ‘race critical’ but try as he might the Mercedes driver could find no way past the Dutchman.
Ahead, Vettel had inherited control of the race and sensing an opportunity the German pushed to open a gap. He succeeded and when he made his one and only stop for tyres on lap 23 he emerged in front of Verstappen and Hamilton.
He then proceeded to further widen the gap and by the time Verstappen made his stop on lap 25 he had carved out a 6.0s lead over Hamilton. The Ferrari driver then controlled the race with ease until the chequered flag to claim his 43rd career win.
Verstappen, meanwhile, found himself in fifth place again in his second stint, behind Kimi Raikkonen.
Armed with supersoft tyres he attempted to close the gap and for a period between lap 40 and 48 he steadily gained ground, slicing a 4.0s to just 1.4s.
He couldn’t find a way to attack the Finn, however, and eventually the gap drifted out 2.2 seconds and after easing back in the final stages he took the chequered flag six seconds behind the Finn, who finished fourth behind Bottas.
With Verstappen fifth, sixth place went to Williams’ Felipe Massa, with Sergio Perez taking seventh for Force India. It was a good day for Toro Rosso, with Carlos Sainz eighth ahead of team-mate Daniil Kvyat. The final points position was taken by Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
Just three other drivers finished the race, with Nico Hulkenberg 11th for Renault and Italian Antonio Giovinazzi 12th for Sauber on his Formula One debut. Thirteenth place went to McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne. The weekend’s other rookie, Lance Stroll retired from the race at two-thirds distance.