The penalty was for a straightforward violation. When Friday’s second practice session was red-flagged Ricciardo, who was on his qualifying simulation run at the time, didn’t slow down enough.
Ricciardo didn’t dispute the stewards’ case when he met them, as he explained the following day. “I walked in there and said I understand I was too fast, I wasn’t making excuses. I knew I had to get a penalty of some sort.”
However he was dismayed that the sanction cost him three places on the grid. “The guideline is a grid penalty but that’s just a guideline,” said Ricciardo.
“There’s reprimands, there’s fines, there’s other things they could have done. If I’d passed a car upside down in the gravel and I was going too fast, sure. I didn’t pass the incident and the incident was a cable. So I thought they could’ve been more lenient before the season started.”
On the face of it Riccairdo deserves some sympathy. After all, he did reduce his speed by 175kph according to the stewards’ report, and was “consistently and significantly slower in the final three turns” which they took as an indication he intended to obey the rules.
He didn’t stand to gain any kind of competitive advantage from driving too quickly at that time. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is this was an innocent mistake.
Nonetheless it was a potentially dangerous one. And, as FIA race director Charlie Whiting explained, there was no grey area here: Ricciardo had broken the rules.
Drivers are given a clear target for how much they must slow down by in these situations and it was clear Ricciardo hadn’t hit it. Drivers must be above a minimum time [i.e. slower]
“The regulations say you have to be positive [above the minimum time] at least once in every marshalling sector,” said Whiting. “So generally you’ve got 20 light panels around the track, you’ve got 20 marshalling sectors, so they have to be positive at least once.
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“Daniel by his own admission made a mistake. He was being told to stay positive, he thought it was positive, but it seems he was just on the wrong side of the line. He thought he was positive but in fact he was negative.”
And as there was no disputing he broke the rule, it’s also clear he did do under potentially dangerous circumstances. A red flag tells a driver that a situation has been considered serious enough to stop a session. While he is correct in pointing out that the danger lay on part of the track he didn’t drive on, he wasn’t in a position to know that at the time.
So on one hand Ricciardo had clearly broken a rule. Driving too quickly when a session was being red-flagged was, the stewards noted, potentially “extremely serious”.
On the other hand this was obviously an innocent mistake: He hadn’t been trying to gain an advantage. The stewards clearly took this into consideration when issuing the penalty, which was more lenient that all of the four penalties issued to drivers who were caught speeding past yellow flags last year. In each of these cases the driver was found to have deliberately not backed off sufficiently:
|Romain Grosjean||China||Qualifying||Five-place grid drop||“The driver attempted to set a meaningful lap time after passing through a double waved yellow marshalling sector.”|
|Jolyon Palmer||China||Qualifying||Five-place grid drop||“The driver attempted to set a meaningful lap time after passing through a double waved yellow marshalling sector.”|
|Felipe Massa||Belgium||Third practice||Five-place grid drop||“The driver made no attempt to significantly reduce his speed in the area of the double waved yellow flags.”|
|Kimi Raikkonen||Belgium||Race||Ten-second stop-go penalty||“The driver made no attempt to significantly reduce his speed in the area of the double waved yellow flags.”|
Unsurprisingly, Ricciardo felt it should have been even more lenient. “I’m sure even if they’d given me a reprimand no driver would have gone up and said ‘are you guys crazy, he deserves a grid penalty’,” he said.
Equally, one could argue that speeding under a red flag is even more serious than speeding past a yellow flag. It’s certainly far more serious than missing the national anthem ceremony, which Ricciardo got a reprimand for last year. On balance, getting a slightly less severe penalty for accidentally speeding in a red flag situation than deliberately speeding past a yellow flag seems fair.
“Luckily we weren’t at my home race,” quipped Ricciardo after qualifying. But of course he was, and when the chequered flag fell on Sunday he was fourth, separated from a home podium appearance by 0.76 seconds and – quite possibly – the penalty he picked up two days earlier.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
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