MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A frustrated Daniel Ricciardo will start his home Australian Grand Prix from eighth on the grid after being handed a three-place grid penalty for a Friday practice infringement.
Stewards sanctioned Ricciardo for driving too fast under red flag conditions during FP2 and the Western Australian was still seething after finishing fifth fastest during the final phase of qualifying a day later.
Stewards said in a statement they had imposed a “lesser penalty than usual” because Ricciardo had driven with “due care” and there was “no danger”.
Ricciardo, who was tipped as a contender for the win at Albert Park, felt wronged.
“I thought it was unjust,” the 28-year-old said.
“A penalty sure, there’s reprimands, there’s fines, there’s other things but to kind of shoot me in the ankle before the season’s started... I thought they could have done better.
“But anyway, from fifth we go to eighth.”
Champion Lewis Hamilton grabbed a record seventh pole at the Australian race for Mercedes, surpassing Ayrton Senna’s six and leaving a gap of more than six-tenths of a second to Ferrari’s second-placed Kimi Raikkonen.
Red Bull arrived in Melbourne with great expectations but finished behind both the Ferraris, with Max Verstappen to start fourth alongside four-times champion Sebastian Vettel.
“I think the qualifying first parts were OK but at the end we just missed a few tenths,” Ricciardo said. “It looked like it was all in the first sector (of the circuit).
“I don’t really know with the balance what I could have done much more there, so I’ll see now. Yes, for sure it was frustrating a little bit.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner earlier said he had never seen Ricciardo so enraged.
“I don’t think (the stewards) wanted to give him the penalty but they had to,” the Briton said. “You could see from the wording of the statement that they tried to water it down as best they could.
“It’s just so unfortunate for Daniel, home driver, home race. I’ve never seen him as angry as he was last night. It’s still eating him up and he’s still pretty revved up about it.”
Ricciardo, who has won five races for Red Bull, has had a bitter record at Albert Park, where no Australian racer has won.
In 2014, he finished second behind Mercedes winner Nico Rosberg but was later disqualified due to a technical infringement that was no fault of his own.
Last year, he crashed during qualifying, had to start the race from pit-lane due to a reliability problem and ended up retiring midway.
Editing by John O'Brien