Daniel Ricciardo's fairytale F1 comeback copped an inevitable reality check at the Belgian GP, while fellow Aussie driver Oscar Piastri's brilliant weekend turned into a nightmare mere seconds into the race courtesy of a first turn incident. Ricciardo, whose comeback at the earlier Hungarian GP was marked by him outperforming teammate Yuki Tsunoda in qualifying and the race, hit a stumbling block as the Japanese driver picked up just the second points finish for Alpha Tauri all season.
The eight-time grand prix winner is mounting an unexpected challenge to replace Sergio Perez as Mex Verstappen's teammate at the sister Red Bull team, but his 16th place finish was a harsh reminder of the monumental task ahead of him. However the bigger story was Piastri, who finished an impressive second behind Verstappen in the sprint race the day before, having to retire on the first lap.
He and Ferrari driver collided at the first turn in what was ultimately deemed a racing incident by stewards, but neither were left particularly happy afterwards. Piastri looked to have a clear run down the inside at the first hairpin, but the gap quickly closed when Sainz was forced to take avoiding action, locking one of his front tyres in the process.
Sainz had been forced to dart towards the inside as Lewis Hamilton and Perez moved to the right - only for Piastri's front wheels to be in his way at the apex. The contact crunched Piastri's right wheel and suspension against the barrier, leading to a scary situation approaching the high-speed Eau Rouge complex with a slowing car and the field approaching behind at full throttle.
“I don’t know what he was doing. I was there and he just turned in like I didn’t exist,” Piastri said over team radio. Sky Sports commentator David Croft described it as an 'absolute disaster' for Piastri, however the 22-year-old was more circumspect about the incident when speaking after the race.
“I had a good launch and got to Carlos’ back wheel. He jinked quite hard to the right, locked up and I had to take a bit of avoidance from that and then by that point I was kind of still there, and with how I had to get out of the brakes it was quite hard to then back out of it fully,” Piastri said.
“I either had to stay where I was or try and commit more and get further alongside. It’s always tight into Turn One like that, but just disappointing to end at the first corner.
“I’ve seen the video, it’s difficult. Carlos didn’t have much space on his outside but I also didn’t really get given that many options. It’s a tricky one. I’m sure we’ll see if I could have done a few things differently. Just a shame to be out so early.”
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Carlos Sainz blames Piastri 'inexperience' for Belgian GP contact
The first turn at Spa Francorchamps has long held a reputation for lap one incidents, and the contact between Sainz and Piastri was a perfect example of the risk and reward associated with the corner. The Ferrari driver argued Piastri should have been more cautious.
“I was on the attack with Lewis, I went to pass him into Turn One, I think I had the move pretty much done and suddenly I received contact on my rear right by Oscar,” Sainz told Sky Sports F1. “I honestly didn’t expect him to go and choose to be (three wide) into Turn One with him so much on the inside.
“My opinion, I’ve been racing in Spa seven or eight years and everyone who has tried that move on the very inside has always generated an incident or a crash. If you look back at past starts here, that is normally the case.
“Maybe a bit of an experience mistake but it’s how it goes. I didn’t miss the apex or anything, I went to attack Lewis and Oscar went to attack Lewis and me, which I think in my opinion was a bit optimistic.”
Former F1 driver turned commentator Martin Brundle said it was difficult to apportion blame to either driver for the incident, acknowledging that Sainz had to move so far to the right due to what was happening in front of him. While Piastri was forced to retire on lap one, Sainz continued for a number of laps before it was clear the damage was too great to keep going.
“That was a typical Spa first corner,” Brundle said. “It started actually with Sergio diving across the track, which made Lewis do the same, and as soon as Sainz put any sort of steering lock in, you’re always going to lock up that inside unloaded tyre.
“Piastri could have slowed down a little bit more but he certainly wasn’t bombing in out of control and trying to make a silly move. It was all a bit unfortunate.”
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