It was all looking so good for Daniel Ricciardo at the Hungarian Grand Prix but a fateful pitstop appeared to cost the Aussie a third straight points finish.
Ricciardo crossed the line in 15th, copping a five-second penalty, which came after struggling to get any heat into his hard tyres following a 46th lap pitstop.
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While Ricciardo’s McLaren teammate Lando Norris finished P7 behind the Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari pairs, even he was frustrated as he slumped 62 seconds behind the sixth-placed Charles Leclerc.
Ferrari were slammed for botching Leclerc’s race when he pitted on lap 39 and struggled to get heat into his hard tyres. Two laps later he was overtaken by eventual race winner Max Verstappen and said over team radio: “F***, the tyres are s**t.
“Oh my God. So bad.
“That’s why I said I wanted to stay on the medium as long as possible.”
He was pitted 15 laps later and ultimately finished sixth.
Alpine also lost time after moving both drivers onto the hards, allowing Ricciardo to pull off a stunning double overtake.
But it all went downhill from there when McLaren’s second pitstop saw Ricciardo plummet down the leaderboard.
On lap 42, Norris went into the pits 15 seconds behind Sergio Perez with 27 laps left, straight after the Red Bull driver stopped for fresh medium tyres.
Norris came out on hard tyres and immediately started losing time, as McLaren didn’t heed the warning from Alpine and Ferrari, to the incredulity of fans.
Four laps later, Ricciardo pitted. The Aussie was eighth before Norris’ pit and came out in 11th, behind Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Alpine pair Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, who all had one-stop races after pitting early for hard tyres.
While it likely would have been better to go on mediums, McLaren had reportedly used their allotment of medium tyres, meaning Ricciardo had to use either hards or softs.
Not long after his hard tyre change, Ricciardo locked up going through a corner and hit Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, which resulted in the Australian copping a five-second penalty.
A lap later, Stroll overtook Ricciardo as he continued to slide down the order, crossing the line in 13th but slipping to 15th because of his time penalty.
“The hard (tyre) was horrible,” Ricciardo told reporters post-race. “I think the softs as well at the start fell away really quickly, so I think the only tyre we had that we were able to do a little bit on was the medium in the middle of the race.
“But yeah, coming out on the hards, it was like ice. Obviously, I had the contact with Lance as well. I tried to do what I could to not hit him, but it just locked so early. Obviously apologise to him for that.
“But yeah, we were just slow, and you get blue flags (to allow front runners to pass overlapped cars) and you never get temperature into the tyres. Not much to say.”
Ricciardo apologised for making contact with his rival, grabbing Stroll as they left parc ferme.
Speaking to the McLaren website, Ricciardo reiterated the hard tyres “simply had no grip”.
“The hard didn’t work for us, I could just never really get it working. I’m looking forward to the break, of course, and will try to come back with a little more speed in the second half of the year,” he said.
Team principal Andreas Seidl said Norris’ P7 was “the best we could achieve today”.
“It was difficult to predict exactly what the different tyre specs will do today, in today’s race, because the conditions were so much different compared to what we’ve seen on Friday,” he said.
“So there were a lot of unknowns and if you look at our strategy, that we took starting on the softs, this was definitely the right strategy because it opened up different opportunities for us for the race.
“But we then saw, because we had to switch to two stops because the soft tyres were degrading quite a lot after, I don’t know, 10, 12 laps, so then putting the hard tyres on was a bit of a question mark.
“But if you look at Lando’s stint on the hard tyres, it actually took him only I guess one lap and the tyres were in, and he did a great stint.
“I guess for us it’s more important to understand why Daniel was not able to do the same.”
While McLaren were bullish about Norris’ performance, the young Brit had concerns as he finished 62 seconds behind Leclerc.
“Yeah, I mean, 22 seconds to Alonso and Ocon so I’m happy, so our goal today was to do that I guess.” Norris told Sky Sports after the race.
“When you’re in the mix and you start P4 you just hope for a little bit more at times, but I thought I felt like I did a good job.
“Difficult first stint on the soft tyres, just completely destroyed them after like five laps, so I was a little bit worried.
“But then the second stint on the medium was very strong, and also the final stint on the hard, so I think a good day, just 62 seconds behind the next position.
“It’s a big margin, but it is what it is, and we have to keep working and close it up.”
Ricciardo’s 15th place finish was a frustrating way to go into the mid-season break.
“Certainly not the first half of the season I wanted, or as a team I guess as well, but the break I think will do us well,” he said.