Daniel Ricciardo cops fresh setback for Japanese Grand Prix after troubles in Melbourne

Daniel Ricciardo cops fresh setback for Japanese Grand Prix after troubles in Melbourne

Daniel Ricciardo has copped an unfortunate setback just days after his disheartening weekend at the Australian Grand Prix, with a calendar change coming back to bite him.

The Australian veteran was outpaced by RB teammate Yuki Tsunoda in Melbourne and his troubles came to a head when his best time was deleted in qualifying for exceeding track limits, dropping him to 18th on the grid.

His entire power unit was swapped out afterwards, the latest step in Ricciardo’s ongoing bid to find a reason for his speed deficit, and he would go on to make up three places in the race.

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But questions over his future in the sport remain with Red Bull facing a decision on three of their four seats for 2025.

Ricciardo and Tsunoda are both out of contract at the end of the year, as is Sergio Perez in the top team, with New Zealand young gun Liam Lawson waiting in the wings.

Claims that Ricciardo could be replaced by Lawson if he does not perform well in the next two races have been denied by Red Bull.

The Aussie will, however, step out of his car to start the next race weekend — the Japanese Grand Prix — in part for promotional reasons.

Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa will jump in alongside Tsunoda for the opening practice run, giving a major all-Japanese boost to the team’s engine partner Honda at its famed Suzuka circuit.

“We will use our young pilot Ayumu Iwasa in practice, an All-Nippon team,” Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko said.

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It comes at the worst possible time for Ricciardo, with the situation made worse by the Japanese Grand Prix’s move to the front of the F1 calendar.

Traditionally held in September or October, it will take place in April this year to avoid typhoon season and consolidate the F1 schedule around regions.

Suzuka is tipped to suit RB’s characteristics but Ricciardo can ill afford to be on the back foot at such a technical track.

“Obviously the weekend I would have loved to have gone better,” the 34-year-old said.

“But I think we’ve just got to keep our eyes on the prize.

“It hasn’t been the best three races to start the season for sure and especially the preparation I had coming into the season, it’s definitely not where I expected to be.

“But it’s certainly not something that we’re going to get rattle by or anything. We’ve just got to stay on course and I’m sure we’ll find it.”

Ricciardo’s struggles in Melbourne were in stark contrast to countryman Oscar Piastri fighting for a podium spot in his McLaren.

Piastri was running third ahead of teammate Lando Norris after their respective early calls put them on different strategies.

Piastri claimed fourth for the second race in a row. Credit: AAP

The 22-year-old Aussie was subsequently asked by McLaren to let Norris by late in the race to avoid having the Briton held up on fresher tyres.

“Yeah, I mean, that was fine,” Piastri said of the team orders.

“Lando qualified in front and tried something a bit different at the first stop, and he was quicker than me in the middle of that stint.

“At that point, it looked like he could maybe get in front of the Ferraris. I was kind of holding pace with them, but Lando was a bit quicker, so it was completely fair.

“Of course, I would have loved to have stayed in third but I think, as a team, we made the right call.”

Piastri will welcome the early return to Japan after securing his first grand prix podium there last year.

But it will also serve as an opportunity to assess his progression as a driver, having been disappointed by his performance at Suzuka despite finishing third.

He finished nearly 20 seconds behind Norris after struggling with his tyres on the high-degradation surface.

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