By the time the chequered flag fell in Barcelona, there was a very frustrated Daniel Ricciardo in the cockpit of the #3 Renault, with the Australian having failed to score points for the fourth time in his first five races for his new team. But while his DNF at the previous race in Baku was entirely on him – after he reversed into the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat – in Spain, Ricciardo was left questioning his team’s strategy on the pit wall.
Having defied expectations to make it into Q3 on Saturday, Ricciardo qualified 10th, before dropping to P13 on the Spain starting grid after taking the penalty for his part in the Kvyat incident in Azerbaijan.
Ricciardo began the race on used softs, traded them for hards on lap 24 – rather than mediums, the seemingly stronger race tyre – before a late Safety Car allowed him to finally put on the yellow-walled rubber. By then he was 13th, and with 13 laps to go after the Safety Car pulled in, he’d climb only one more place – past his Renault team mate Nico Hulkenberg – before the end. Post-race, the Australian was disappointed, particularly after seeing race-long rival Carlos Sainz eventually finishing a fighting eighth on a soft-medium-soft strategy.
“I mean, we were behind Sainz the first stint and finally got past him,” said Ricciardo. “Then we fitted the hard and he fitted the medium and got me straight back on that first lap. Obviously when you look at where he finished and where we finished, it’s frustrating to see him in eighth and us in 12th. Obviously fitting the hard didn’t work for us. I feel that that let us down for now… [But] we were certainly quicker than 12th today.”
In the sister Renault, Nico Hulkenberg was forced to start from the pit lane after it was found that the front wing Renault had fitted after the German crashed in the first part of qualifying on Saturday had been of a different spec to the one he’d had on when he crashed. In the event, the German made a one-stop strategy work to finish just three seconds behind his team mate in 13th – and admitted that the day, for him, had been bittersweet.
“In a way, [it was] a good race [even though] we didn’t get anything from it,” said Hulkenberg, “but after a tricky weekend and after Baku, it was quite good to get a normal race under my belt to build that confidence back up. I felt good in the car, felt comfortable, just our general pace is a little bit too slow, especially around here, but I think we just need to keep on working on the package.”
Fortunately for Renault, they can start that work straightaway, thanks to the two days of testing that will take place in Barcelona on Tuesday and Wednesday. And having failed to take a double-points finish so far this season, and scoring with one car on just two occasions, improvements can’t come soon enough for the currently eight-placed Renault.