Daniel Ricciardo has played down suggestions of a rift with Sebastian Vettel after the Formula One world champion appeared to ignore team orders during Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Vettel grumpily replied “tough luck” when told – for a second successive race – to yield to his Red Bull teammate, who was closing fast in fifth, after the first round of pit stops.
Ricciardo eventually passed two laps later and finished fourth, 21 seconds ahead of Vettel in fifth. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was the winner ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Despite his initial reaction, Vettel insisted he did give way to Ricciardo when he realised the Australian had more pace.
“I did move over,” Vettel told reporters.
“Initially I didn’t understand (the request) because we were on the same tyres.
“At that stage Daniel was on a different strategy so, yeah, I moved over.
“I could see more and more towards the end of the race that I just didn’t have the pace … In the end there was no point in holding him back.”
Vettel’s defiance no doubt irked many Australian fans but the ever-smiling Ricciardo moved to defuse any potential dispute between the pair.
“I don’t want to start any conflicts or anything,” 24-year-old Ricciardo was quoted as saying by the BBC.
“At the end of the day we eventually got past and I was able to do my race.”
Ricciardo has been consistently quicker than Vettel this season in an unexpected challenge for the German, who has won the last four world titles but currently lies fifth in the standings after four races.
Vettel’s initial response over the radio came when he was informed Ricciardo, who was on the same tyres, was behind only because he had pitted earlier.
Vettel has previously ignored orders, most famously when he overtook previous Australian team-mate Mark Webber to win the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix despite being told to hold second position.
However, two weeks ago in Bahrain, he moved over without complaint for Ricciardo, who was on quicker, softer tyres.
Vettel’s version of events on Sunday was backed up by team boss Christian Horner, who said he’d done the right thing.
“Look, at that stage Seb was on the same tyres and he wants to race,” Horner said.
“But he was going through the tyres quicker so he’s obviously moved out of the way and let his teammate through.
“For any driver, they don’t like that call. But he’s absolutely abided by it. He’s a team player at the end of the day.”
F1 action returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.