Fresh from a four-week break at home in Australia—and having endured two weeks of quarantine in a hotel to earn it—Daniel Ricciardo has spoken for the first time about the dramatic sequence of events that saw Max Verstappen crowned world champion in Abu Dhabi after a last-lap move on Lewis Hamilton.
Ricciardo was the first lapped car not to be allowed past the safety car as those sat between the two title contenders were waved through, giving the Aussie the best seat in the house for one of the most controversial endings in F1 history.
The fallout, as we know, was huge. Mercedes appealed the result, and when that was rejected, it announced its intention to take the case further. But a few days later, it backtracked on that decision as the FIA committed to investigating what—if anything—went wrong.
In the immediate aftermath, Ricciardo said over the team radio: “I’m glad I’m not a part of that. Whatever just happened, it seemed pretty ******* up.”
But speaking at the launch of McLaren’s 2022 car, he explained: “At the time, I think I said it when I was still in the car, probably just getting out of the car in parc ferme. All I knew at the time was Lewis had a relatively big lead—it looked like it was going to be wrapped up and then with one lap to go, there’s a restart.
“So I was just like, ‘Is this really happening? This is nuts.’ I watched it on TV in 2008 with [Felipe] Massa and Lewis and thought, ‘That will never happen again.’ Obviously, it did.
“At that time, I was just like, ‘Man, I feel for Lewis.’ It’s not often you put yourself in another driver’s shoes, especially when you’re on track with them. But for whatever reason, I was putting myself in his shoes that night, probably because I could see it all unfold in front of me. And I was like, ‘I would not like to be feeling that right now. That’s a real heartbreaker.’”
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This past week, the FIA has been gathering views from all of the drivers as part of its investigation, and an outline of any changes or improvements it intends to make should emerge next week.
Lando Norris—who has secured his long-term future in F1 by signing a lucrative four-year deal to continue with McLaren—explained there’s one thing that everyone wants going forward: “consistency.”
“When something is inconsistent, like that weekend, that’s when people get annoyed and frustrated,” he said. “You make decisions and the team make decisions upon that consistency and rules and so on, so if something’s shifted or changed, of course it will annoy a lot of people.
“Ninety-nine percent of things are very good—we just want that consistency.”
The man in charge of delivering that on Sundays is race director Michael Masi, who has been removed from his position over the past week. However, Masi was put in an impossibly difficult situation as he tried to balance the teams’ desire to not finish races behind the safety car if at all possible, while also being aggressively lobbied by both Red Bull and Mercedes over the radio.
“I think what is so hard is you see us make mistakes as drivers, and of course it’s human to make mistakes,” said Norris before Masi’s removal was confirmed. “And if that was just something that happened in such a quick time, then I think that’s the way it is. I support Michael.”
Ricciardo agrees, arguing that too much interference from the teams “made it more messy than it should’ve been.” He continued: “I feel like there’s too much pressure on [the stewards], to be honest. Obviously, the sport in general has a lot more exposure now, which is great in some elements. But it also puts others under pressure who probably aren’t asking for that pressure, or aren’t used to it.
“It’s hard to look back in time and think when was a race director or steward so much in the media. It was quite unique, and unknown territory. It already felt a little bit intense, and I feel like everyone should take a step back.”
Indeed, plenty of fans on social media threatened to never watch F1 again, such was the dismay among some over how things played out. Is Ricciardo worried about people switching off? “I think lovers of the sport are still going to be lovers of the sport,” he reasoned, “and probably if anything curious to see what happens in ’22.”
Are you among them? Testing begins in Barcelona on February 23, with the first grand prix of the new season taking place in Bahrain on March 20.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.