Daniel Ricciardo will start from sixth place on the grid for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
But the Red Bull driver came within seconds of not making it into qualifying at all, after his engineers worked feverishly to fit a new engine following w turbocharger failure in final practice.
The team had only two hours between sessions to carry out the replacement. The task was made even harder by the discover that the back-up Renault engine hadn’t been fully made up.
“What happened this morning wasn’t the mechanics’ fault,” Ricciardo said afterwards. “But they had all the pressure to put the new engine in the car in time.
“They did very well!” he acknowledged. “I think they have broken their own record for an engine change several times and they did it again today.”
“It was a fantastic effort from the crew,” commented Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “There was a significant amount of work to get Daniel out for Q1 and everyone in the garage did a brilliant job.
“The amount of time we’ve changed these engines, we’ve had plenty of practice,” Horner added wryly. “Getting that engine dressed and onto the car, it’s just Herculean.”
It wasn’t just Ricciardo’s pit crew pulling out all the stops. Engineers from Max Verstappen’s side of the garage were also pitching in.
“To see Max’s mechanics as well diving in when and where they could it’s what a team is all about,” said Horner. “That was the biggest result of qualifying for us today was actually achieving that feat.”
Ricciardo’s car was still in pieces when qualifying got underway. Right up to the last minute, Ricciardo had his doubts whether the job could be finished in time.
“It got to 2pm and the guys were saying get ready, but we didn’t think it was going to happen,” he admitted.
“I didn’t expect to get out but I was ready to go and excited when I did,” he added. “I’m just thankful that the team were able to get me out there.”
He only had enough time to set one flying lap in Q1, but it was enough to keep him out of the elimination zone when the clock ran out. After that it was a relatively more normal and straight-forward time in Q2 and Q3.
“In the end it’s relatively close,” he said. “We’re at the tail end of the top six which isn’t ideal. But I think with all things considered it wasn’t a bad afternoon.”
Ricciardo is hoping to get a little extra boost at the start of Sunday’s race thanks to the selection of a contrary tyre strategy to his rivals.
“I think they all start on softs in front of us tomorrow,” he noted. “From what I understand myself and Max will start on ultrasofts.
“So strategy will definitely play a big part. Hopefully it can help get us up on the podium.”
And as for being struck by engine issues for two weekends in succession, Ricciardo is just hoping to move on and put it behind him.
“We’ve just got to try and keep reiterating the importance of reliability,” he said. “And try and overcome all these penalties that we’ll eventually have at some point now.”
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