Daniel Ricciardo says McLaren’s forced withdrawal from the Australian Grand Prix was a “bombshell” for him to read on the eve of the Albert Park race.
The Renault star said he and his team are preparing to return to racing in July in a wide-ranging interview about the suspended Formula 1 season and the impact coronavirus has had on the sport.
His suggestion of a July return goes against the official Formula 1 calendar, which still has two races scheduled for June.
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The 30-year-old star said his resolve to race at his home grand prix this year was already wavering before McLaren stunned the rest of the grid by pulling out on the Thursday before the race.
McLaren withdrew from the season opener when a team member tested positive for coronavirus.
The Australian Grand Prix was the first major sporting event cancelled in Australia because of the coronavirus and the news was followed quickly by announcements from the AFL and NRL that matches would be played in closed stadiums — before both footy codes were eventually suspended by the decision from state governments to close state borders across the country.
The Australian Grand Prix, however, was the first “bombshell”.
“It was weird being there, and even on Thursday I was preparing myself to compete that weekend,” Ricciardo told Talk Sport Radio.
“But I was never certain it was going to happen. I knew there was a slight risk it could all get pulled last minute.
“The bombshell for me was really when I went to bed on Thursday night, and just before I went to sleep I saw McLaren had pulled out of the race, because of the case within their team.
“I then stayed up for probably another three hours trying to fish out a bit more information, but I knew then we weren’t going to race without a full grid.
“To be honest, I was no longer comfortable with it either; I was like, ‘Look, this is the first race of the season, either we are all in it or we’re not, that’s just how it is’.”
Since the Aussie race was scrapped, a series of grands prix have been cancelled, including the iconic Monaco Grand Prix, while another six races have been postponed indefinitely.
Ricciardo says the sport’s best case scenario is to return to racing in July, despite the Canadian Grand Prix still scheduled to be held on June 14.
Ricciardo’s forecast would also see the French Grand Prix scheduled for June 28 to be cancelled or postponed.
Despite being annoyed at the disrupted season, Ricciardo is fully supportive of the efforts designed to put health and safety first.
“What I’m seeing in the news is that most places have taken the measures they’ve need to – with lockdowns and not leaving your house – so I feel the sooner everyone starts to contain it that should be the right direction to finally say goodbye to this virus,” he said.
“That gives me confidence that sooner rather than later we will see it go off, but for now, from a point of view of the racing, I just want to get racing.
“Obviously Melbourne was a disappointment to not happen, but for sure I want to do it when people’s health is back where it should be. That is the priority.”