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Formula 1

Two reasons Ricciardo escaped penalty for Albon Japanese GP crash

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

Daniel Ricciardo has escaped sanction for the opening-lap collision that took him and Alex Albon out of Formula 1's Japanese Grand Prix - but the FIA stewards have indicated this would not have been the case if not for a pair of mitigating circumstances.

Ricciardo tagged Albon's Williams with the right rear of his RB car after shifting right on entry into Suzuka's Esses on the opening lap, with both cars going hard into the barrier as a result.

Both were unhurt, but the race was suspended for around half an hour due to barrier repairs. And with both drivers out on the spot, the incident was designated for a post-race hearing.

In their verdict, the stewards said the two drivers' interpretation of the incident was "aligned" in said hearing. And they emphasised the role Lance Stroll's proximity - and potential attack from the inside - on the approach to the corner impacted Ricciardo's driving.

"On the approach to Turn 3, the driver of car #3 [Ricciardo] noticed car #18 [Stroll] on his left and stated that he wanted to give that car sufficient room. He stated he then looked to the apex of Turn 3. He did not see car #23 [Albon] on his right."

Albon, the stewards said, had been gunning for an overtake around-the-outside before realising Ricciardo hadn't seen him and running out of time to back off.

The stewards - who this weekend include sometime Arrows F1 driver Enrique Bernoldi - said they ruled this "a first-lap incident" warranting no further action.

But they also specified that "if this incident had occurred on a subsequent lap, or without the presence of the third car, a different determination would've been made" - with the use of the word 'or' suggesting that Ricciardo may well have been sanctioned if not for the specific combination of the mitigating factors.

What the drivers said

Ricciardo felt he had been put in the position to have the crash with a lack of initial grip on the medium - and said he would've started on the soft if given a redo.

"We definitely got gobbled up," he explained. "That medium - it was weird, because the cars in front of us looked like they got off the line well. Pretty sure everyone in front was on the medium, just looked like Yuki [Tsunoda] and I didn't have the grip that we anticipated.

"And as soon as we launched, I could see [Valtteri] Bottas and [Nico] Hulkenberg just split us and go around. And then into [Turn] 1 I was in the middle with Yuki and Alpine. By Turn 2, I thought 'alright, let's just settle' - and as soon as I got on the throttle, I was still struggling, Stroll was on my outside, trying to hold him off, and then as I've started to come back for 3, Albon's there.

"I watched his onboard - I don't even know if he wanted to be there [on the outside] but his traction was so much better on the soft."

But as Albon explained - and as he confirmed during the subsequent hearing - he did intend to try and make up the position.

"It was more about just trying to get him a little bit off-line for 3, and try to find a way for 4-5-6-7, to see if I could upset his line a little bit," Albon explained. "Obviously just one of them things - he didn't see me, clearly.

"I tried to back out of it last-minute. There was a moment where I realized he hasn't seen me here, the way he's pulling it across - so I I hit the brakes and tried to get out of it. But we're almost too far alongside."

It was a particularly unwelcome crash for Ricciardo given his rough start to the season, but likewise for Williams - given it had just run a one-car Australian Grand Prix due to the lack of a spare chassis, and won't have one ready in time for the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix.

Albon described it as a "relatively low-speed impact" but it clearly did significant damage to his car.

"Before I even hit the wall, it was like 'ugh, this is exactly what we don't need'," he recalled.

"You know, it's no secret that we are having a tough time of it at the moment with the parts we've got. Yeah, this is going to hurt us, for sure."

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