Daniel Ricciardo has played down suggestions his disappointing performance in qualifying for the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix was the result of testing positive for COVID a week ago.
The Australian sat out last week’s final pre-season test after initially feeling unwell before returning a positive COVID-19 test result.
Lacking the mileage he would have gained in the McLaren MCL36 in that test, combined with an inability to train, he entered this weekend on the back foot.
He was then hit with a water leak which cost him running in Free Practice 2 and delayed his entry into Free Practice 3.
Combined, it meant he could manage no better that 18th on the grid for Sunday’s race, making the eight-time race winner the highest profile elimination from qualifying’s first phase.
“From a physical health point of view, I do feel okay now, so I don’t attribute any results based on COVID, if you will.” Ricciardo said.
“I left Barcelona test feeling pretty good in terms of it was a real productive test, lots of laps, and I felt like I had a good handle on the car.
“But it was clear, I was already a bit anticipating it after following the [Bahrain] test, and speaking a bit with Lando as well, [there was a] very different kind of challenges at this track. Obviously I experienced it first hand from yesterday.
“So being let’s say a step behind, obviously I’d love to say I could have found that step quickly, but it really was something that I didn’t recover in time.”
Part of the challenge facing Ricciardo was a relative lack of familiarity with the track in 2022-spec machinery, given his peers largely have more experience at the venue.
At a more familiar location, he suggested, it would be a different scenario.
“I think if we were to race in Barcelona, I would be more competitive,” he said.
“I’d like to think so from the test, but it was… I don’t want to say starting from scratch, but certainly [Bahrain has been] a new set of challenges.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate but it is what it is and what’s done is done, so try to move forward.”
A lack of preparation for Ricciardo was not McLaren’s only hiccup ahead of this weekend’s race.
Brake problems hampered the squad’s ability to complete long runs during testing last week, with an interim solution rushed onto the car for this weekend.
“With everything we’ve seen so far, with the long runs we have done as well on Friday, we are quite confident that we have a solution in place which is reliable to do the race tomorrow,” said team boss Andreas Seidl.
“It’s still an interim solution but very pleased with the reaction of the team bringing these parts here in order to make sure we can do the race tomorrow.”
While Ricciardo will line up for Sunday’s race 18th, Norris fared only marginally better with the 13th best time.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled to get under way at 02:00 AEDT on Monday.