Ricciardo mystified by lack of qualifying pace

Daniel Ricciardo says the problems that left him sixth and a second off the pace in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix are yet to be explained.

The Australian has finished second in the previous three Singapore races and was one of this year’s dark horses to finally mount the top step of the podium, but despite topping the time sheet in Q1, he plummeted to sixth by the top-10 shootout.

Emotional outside the car to have lost his shot at a strong result at one of Red Bull Racing’s preferred circuits, Ricciardo confessed he didn’t know why he wasn’t able to keep pace with his frontrunning rivals.

“I’ve calmed down a little bit, but it’s just frustrating because it felt like we were going to be there and we ended up a second off,” he said. “We just lost grip as the session went on.

“It felt like everyone could go with the track improvement and find pretty much more than a second, and we just couldn’t find any more.”

Red Bull Racing applied some set-up changes after Saturday practice, when both Ricciardo and teammate Max Verstappen were more than 1.1 seconds off the pace.

The tweaks did the trick for Verstappen, who qualified second, but though Ricciardo said the car felt as though it had benefitted from the modifications, the improved stability didn’t translate into quicker lap times after Q1.

“Obviously we were quick in Q1,” he said. “Then it just felt like everyone was able to keep improving.

“I knew the others had found over a second; I was finding half a tenth, a tenth, and it was just not really moving and I was just not really sure why the lap time wasn’t coming down like it naturally should when the track keeps improving,

“We found a little bit, but we couldn’t really find any more, and we don’t really know why. It just fell away from us.”

Red Bull Racing had experienced some severe power unit problems earlier in the day — Verstappen’s engineering feedback after FP3 was “the product in the back isn’t working the way how I want it to” — and though they continued less dramatically through to qualifying, Ricciardo said they couldn’t account for the pace difference alone.

“It’s just some drivability stuff — there are a few misfires,” he said. “I would say it’s half a second there with the engine, and I’m not just saying that because I’m trying to be nice to Renault.

“This morning it was a serious issue; this afternoon I would say it was very small for actually the problems I had.”

Ricciardo has been confident since Friday that Red Bull Racing’s long-run pace could put it in contention for victory, but the difficulty of passing around the serpentine Marina Bay Street Circuit means mounting a podium challenge will be difficult from sixth place in ordinary circumstances.

“I think we can look after the tyres well, but if everyone one-stops, then it’s hard to do anything,” Ricciardo lamented. “I think being out of track position the reality is pushing on someone and being able to overtake on track is slim, so maybe the best case is to try and just preserve those tyres, go long and make the one-stop work.”

“Strategy [will be key] — or someone running on the track, like 2015. That might help me out this time!”