Red Bull Racing recruit Daniel Ricciardo is fast earning the approval of his new team-mates, despite another promising display failing to yield the deserved results in Malaysia on Sunday.
Having seen his run to second place on debut with RBR in Melbourne come to nothing after the stewards excluded him on a performance technicality, the Australian was back in feisty form at Sepang – only to see a potential fourth place go begging as his RB10 was retired in the latter stages.
Ricciardo's start, from fifth on the grid, saw him quickly dispose of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari before the former F3 champion set his sights on RBR team-mate Sebastian Vettel and the two Mercedes at the front of the field.
“Daniel, I think, was fantastic today,” team boss Christian Horner enthused, “To anybody that said he wasn't committed enough over the first lap or so, I think he proved any doubters wrong - he's an absolute racer. He got stuck in and made the pass on Alonso, he went around the outside of Seb and gave them both enough room to work with, and he nearly had a run at [Nico] Rosberg as well.
“I think, for any team, it's a nervous time [seeing both its drivers going head to head], but they both gave each other plenty of space and there was no moaning over the radio or anything like that. They just got on with it.
“Everything we've seen from Daniel has been enormously impressive in the way he handles things, the way he handles adversity. Today didn't go his way, but he gets out of the car and there's a smile on his face. He knows it'll come right.”
Adversity indeed stalked the Australian's car in Malaysia for, having settled into fourth spot despite carrying a failed fuel sensor since the start, he was subsequently hampered by a stop-go penalty for an unsafe release and a front wing failure that led to a puncture. Once out of contention, the team decided to retire his car and preserve it for this weekend's race in Bahrain, where Ricciardo will start with a ten-place grid penalty.
“The rules, I think, are pretty clear,” Horner admitted, “For an unsafe release, it's a stop-go penalty of ten seconds and a ten-place grid penalty for the next race. The punishment is harsh for the crime but, unfortunately, it's the rule, so that's what it'll be.”
Ricciardo had to be pulled back into his stall after stopping in pit-lane when he realised that his left front wheel was loose, but the damage had already been done.
“The wheel wasn't located correctly,” Horner subsequently explained, “It went on okay and was done up, but the gunman felt something wasn't quite right. In going to put a couple of extra turns on [the wheel nut], the latch on the gun had switched back across, so he effectively undid it. It's one of those things - this pit crew have the fastest stops in pit-lane but, today, a mistake was made. That's how it goes sometimes.”
Whether the efforts to get Ricciardo back to his garage contributed to the subsequent wing problem remains the subject on investigation at Red Bull, according to Horner.
“That's under further investigation at the moment as we don't know whether, in recovering the car, we did some damage, or whether there was some damage on track,” he confirmed, “There's some work to do to understand exactly what happened there. We told Seb to be careful around turn 14 as we thought there may have been some damage from the kerb, but we've got no conclusive evidence.”
Of bigger concern to Red Bull, meanwhile, will be the fact that it suffered another failed fuel sensor. Ricciardo's DSQ in Melbourne was the result of his RB10 consuming fuel at a faster rate than permitted by the regulations, and the team continues to suffer more than most, although the symptoms are reportedly more common amongst the Renault users.
“I've no idea [why it is happening],” Horner conceded, “but we've got another load of data from here to go away and look at. Theoretically there shouldn't be [a reason], but we need to look and understand it. Everybody else is very happy with the sensor apparently.
“[Ricciardo's fuel sensor] failed prior to the race. We informed the FIA about it and they asked us to see if we could revive it on the grid. We tried that but it didn't come back to life, and the sensor didn't work in the race. The fault was with the fuel rail, which was reading an inaccurate amount, but it's not been the only issue with the sensors this weekend.”
With RBR appealing Ricciardo's round one exclusion, could another failure help strengthen the team's claim that the parts are unreliable?
“I think it could demonstrate that there are issues with these sensors,” Horner concluded, “Toro Rosso had two failures earlier in the weekend and there have been other failures and issues up and down the pit-lane - it certainly isn't unique to Red Bull.”