Daniel Ricciardo Found Out How Hard It Is To Be Nice About Lance Stroll’s Driving

A great deal has changed in the five years since Formula 1 had last raced in China, thanks to a pandemic and ensuing pandemic policy. At the top, a changing of the guard: Max Verstappen’s unsurprising 2024 Chinese Grand Prix win has rounded him out to holding exactly 50 percent of all race wins since April 14, 2019, the last time the Chinese GP was held, and that’s including two full years of Mercedes domination. Charles Leclerc supplanted four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, and he will soon be joined there by seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

And, toward the bottom, a sort of meandering shuffle: Daniel Ricciardo has gone from scoring podiums at a midfield team to being routinely outperformed by his younger teammates; he has also, somehow, gotten back into the Red Bull Racing ecosystem. Meanwhile, Lance Stroll ostensibly went from Racing Point to Aston Martin, though that is aptly a transfer of naming rights of his father’s team, rather than any movement on his part. This weekend, Ricciardo and Stroll were notable not only because of their continued presence in F1, but also because they managed to get into the rare crash under safety car conditions.

At the end of lap 26, with the safety car pulled away and Max Verstappen nearly ready to launch the restart, Fernando Alonso locked up and went straight at the hairpin, just before the start/finish line. The seventh- through 11th-place procession closely following behind him—in order: George Russell, Oscar Piastri, Ricciardo, Stroll, and Nico Hulkenberg—were forced to brake, as they were technically still under safety car conditions and couldn’t overtake him. Stroll failed to brake sufficiently, ramming into the back of Ricciardo’s RB (full name Visa CashApp RB, which is not to be confused with Red Bull itself); the force was enough to send the back of Ricciardo’s car up in the air, and drove him like a spear into the back of Piastri’s car ahead, damaging Piastri’s diffuser while Ricciardo was forced to retire. In the chaos, Hulkenberg turned right and passed both Stroll and Ricciardo.

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The incident caused a penalty for both Stroll and Ricciardo. Stroll received a 10-second time penalty and two penalty points to his license—receiving 12 penalty points within a 12-month period results in a race ban—while Ricciardo received the exact same penalty for passing Hulkenberg under safety car conditions, something he thought he was permitted to do as a result of Hulkenberg having previously passed him after the collision. Because Ricciardo retired from the race and was unable to receive his 10-second penalty, it was converted into a three-place grid penalty for the subsequent race in Miami, leaving him with a more stringent-seeming penalty than Stroll received for the initial collision. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg did not receive a penalty for passing Ricciardo and Stroll, as the stewards stated it was within regulation due to the crash.

Ricciardo was incensed after the race, not helped by a reporter showing him Stroll’s radio comments after the incident, in which he referred to Ricciardo as an idiot. “Apparently, I’m an idiot, and it was my fault. That made my blood boil, because it’s clear as day and it’s also behind a safety car,” Ricciardo said. “The only thing you’ve got to do is watch the car in front. We can’t predict what the leader’s gonna do. The race doesn’t start until the control line. I’m doing my best not to say what I want to say, but fuck that guy. And I’m being nice, too!”

Nothing Ricciardo is saying is incorrect: Under safety car conditions, there is no need to worry about any driver behind until the moments just before the start/finish line. Stroll defended himself by pointing out that Alonso had braked suddenly, causing a cascade of sudden braking behind him, which was then exacerbated by the concertina effect at the hairpin. This explanation was not enough to satisfy Piastri, who said, “Yes, but everyone else didn’t crash into each other. I think in that kind of corner, you always need to expect that.”

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Ricciardo is a nice guy, so famed for being nice that his niceness is a primary reason as to why he is still racing in F1 this year. He also happens to be good friends with Lance Stroll’s brother-in-law, Scotty James. With all of that in context, it is telling that “fuck that guy” is the nicest response that Ricciardo can muster for Stroll, who undoubtedly ruined his race and, depending on how much you fault Stroll for the forces of causality, the following in Miami, where it has been notoriously difficult to overtake.

The Daniel Ricciardo experiment at RB f.k.a. AlphaTauri has so far been a failure. So much for the second Red Bull seat—considering the increasing number of talented young drivers who have continued to be bottlenecked out of the sport with Andretti’s failed entry, more and more scrutiny has been paid to the seat that Ricciardo is occupying. Helmut Marko is out there making wistful comments about Liam Lawson in an F1 seat; Ricciardo acknowledged in an interview that “If I am getting my ass whooped, I don’t deserve to be here.” Shanghai was Ricciardo’s best shot at a comeback: He’d finally outqualified Yuki Tsunoda, and was running to get his first points of the season. The collision took away what would’ve been his best performance of the season.

But if Ricciardo inspires some sense of injustice for occupying a seat purely off the back of being nice and Australian, then where does that leave Stroll? The greatest defense for Stroll is that in comparison to other pay drivers—namely Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin—he’s practically Michael Schumacher. But being “better than most pay drivers” doesn’t excuse the gaffes that would’ve seen any other driver out of a seat if their father didn’t own the team. Stroll has pushed Ricciardo to a point of rage not even achieved by a recently post-teenaged Max Verstappen. If we are talking about the things that have changed since the 2019 Chinese GP, it’s worth a mention for the things that haven’t: Lance Stroll’s seat and Lance Stroll’s driving.

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