SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Daniel Ricciardo feared he had been “stitched up” by Red Bull in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday but mustered a smile after talking it through with team boss Christian Horner.
The Australian, out of contract at the end of the season but now expected to sign a new deal, had a testy exchange over the radio after having to run ahead of team mate Max Verstappen in the final shoot-out.
That meant Ricciardo was giving the 20-year-old Dutch driver, who is seen by many as a future world champion, the benefit of a “tow” while the Australian’s car took the aerodynamic hit.
Ricciardo, already a double race winner this season, slowed in a bid to get Verstappen to go past but the youngster maintained position instead, with the team urging both men to hurry up.
“I’m not too impressed to be honest,” the Australian told Sky Sports television after qualifying seventh — three behind Verstappen — at Red Bull’s home circuit.
“We had three runs and I was just punching a hole for everyone. I’m not that happy. That’s all.”
He later told reporters that he had cleared the air in another sense and understood the position, grinning at the media crowd assembled in the team hospitality and pulling out his phone to film the scene.
“I either won or I said something,” he joked.
Asked whether he had thought at the time that he was being “stitched up”, Ricciardo said: “During the heat of it all, I thought so.
“I’ve had a few discussions since with Christian, with my engineer,” he added.
“(I) probably should have just talked about it more beforehand. I had concerns and I spoke a little bit with my engineer about it, but I guess as a team it wasn’t discussed,” he said of the strategy.
“But in my mind, in the car, I’m just like, ‘It’s obvious what’s happening, isn’t it? Give me a run where I’m getting a tow instead of giving everyone else a tow’. It was probably miscommunication.”
Horner said the protocol was clear and long-established.
“We have a very simple policy here that has operated for the last seven years,” he said.
“We alternate from weekend to weekend who drives out of the garage first (in the final phase of qualifying). It’s the only way to keep it fair from circuit to circuit.
“This weekend was Daniel’s time to drive out the garage first ahead of Max. Obviously he felt that Max might be benefiting from that. That’s why he obviously started to back off a bit.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neville Dalton