Daniel Ricciardo bemoaned “something a bit lame” in Formula 1’s rules that forced him and Oscar Piastri to run the Brazilian Grand Prix a lap down and “completely zapped” his excitement for the restart.
Ricciardo and Piastri picked up significant damage as innocent victims of a messy first corner crash at the start of the race at Interlagos.
When the full field entered the pitlane at the end of the opening lap, because of all the debris on the track at Turn 1, everyone else rejoined while the AlphaTauri and McLaren were wheeled into their respective garages and looked set to be retired.
The safety car period quickly became a red flag on lap two, which offered Ricciardo and Piastri a reprieve as their teams were able to make extensive repairs during the lengthy stoppage.
But it also meant the two cars were a lap down, as the field crossed the line for a second time while returning to the pits to line up in the fast lane behind the safety car.
As the red flag period meant teams had time to get the cars repaired, which for AlphaTauri meant changing Ricciardo’s rear wing, Ricciardo thought he would be restored to the lead lap - but was informed he would take the restart still a lap down.
“So, we’re ready to go and then they tell me Oscar and I are starting a lap down,” Ricciardo said.
“And yeah…all the excitement you have to race again just gets completely zapped out of you.
“There was not a green flag racing lap completed.
“I don’t know how we started the race a lap down, so that’s really frustrating.
“Something a bit lame in the rules.”
A combination of F1's rules left Ricciardo and Piastri in this position.
The order for the restart is taken “at the last point at which it was possible to determine the position of all cars”, and there was a clear classification at the end of the second lap (even though it was completed under a red flag) that had Ricciardo and Piastri a lap down.
This could have been fixed ahead of the restart by wheeling them to the front of the fast lane to complete an outlap and then return to the pits at the back of the queue - but that's not what F1's rules permit for cars in the situation Ricciardo and Piastri were in.
There are different conditions for cars that were not running on track at the time of the race being suspended.
If, like Ricciardo and Piastri, they are in the garage during the red flag, then for the restart they are only “permitted to leave the pitlane when the race is resumed but must re-enter the pitlane when the safety car returns and may join the race once the last car has passed the pit exit after the restart”.
Essentially, you get different treatment if you are not part of the fast lane queue at the time of the red flag. Were Ricciardo and Piastri a lap down but at the back of that queue rather than in their garages they would have been allowed to catch the lap back up.
It's similar to the established practice of lapped cars being allowed to overtake a safety car then try to catch up to the back of the pack.
In Azerbaijan in 2021, for example, Nikita Mazepin was wheeled from the back of the queue in the fast lane to the front of it during the late red flag period, then released onto the track on his own. He drove the lap, returned to the pits, and rejoined at the back of the queue (now on the lead lap), then the full field left the pits to head round to the grid for the standing restart.
So, the only way for Piastri and Ricciardo to restart from the grid in Brazil would have been for both cars to have continued instead of returning to the pits at the end of lap one, and then having their cars repaired in the fast lane rather than the garage.
In hindsight this may have been possible, as a red flag did look likely so theoretically they could have gambled on running with damage behind the safety car for one more lap.
But it would have risked punishment for continuing with their cars in an unsafe condition and, in any case, the damage on both cars may have needed a full garage environment to repair in such a short time.
The real misfortune was that this was not an immediate red flag. If the field had come into the pits immediately at the end of lap one and then Ricciardo and Piastri had their cars returned to the garage for repairs, they would have still been forced to start from the pits - but at least would not have been a lap down.
Ricciardo has suggested the rule be changed in this case, making the point that in extreme scenarios it could mean more cars being forced to start from the pits a lap down with just a few on the grid.
“My argument is that if 15 cars had our issue today, are they going to start 15 cars in the pitlane a lap down and put five cars on the grid? No,” he said.
“They’re not going to do that, so I think they can use common sense and be a bit more open-minded.
“It’s frustrating that they ruined our day from the beginning.”