Melbourne: The first call Christian Horner made when he stepped off the plane from Melbourne was to his lawyer.
The team principal who has built a dynasty in a decade at Red Bull is refusing to take the decision by stewards to disqualify Daniel Ricciardo from the Australian Grand Prix lying down. The result will be a legal battle on a grand scale as Horner attempts to restore his driver's second-place finish.
The sympathy of a nation will be behind him. Australian fans who went to bed on Sunday night not having a clue that the local hero had been unceremoniously ejected from his home grand prix, woke up to the lurid headline in Melbourne’s daily tabloid: “Grand Farce”.
Anger and frustration coursed through the nation as Australia attempted to grapple with the concept of a sport that can allow 100,000 spectators to leave the arena and then more than five hours later change the result.
F1 is used to settling its disputes through the arguments of expensive lawyers, though, and the FIA, the governing body, said it would probably be anxious to arrive at a verdict before the Malaysian Grand Prix on March 30, perhaps expecting a run of disputes surrounding the incredibly complex regulations devised to control the new hybrid engines launched on Sunday.
Horner had warned that there would be problems with such “immature technology” and he was not alone in expecting legal issues as teams try to wring the best out of their complicated hybrid systems while staying within the legal boundaries.
Horner has enjoyed a sequence of winning four consecutive constructors’ world championships, while Sebastian Vettel has dominated the sport, and has not yet run the treadmill of legal wrangling and internecine struggle like Ron Dennis, who returned to the pitwall with his McLaren team. Not that he was supposed to be there.
[Agencies add: Lewis Hamilton, who snatched pole position at the end of a wet qualifying session on Saturday, noticeably lacked power on his start and was called in by his team to retire on the third lap. Twelfth off the grid, Vettel also struggled at the start and retired only a few laps after Hamilton, complaining of engine performance problems.]
Having ousted Martin Whitmarsh to take back control of the team he effectively created, Dennis insisted that he would not be seen interfering in strategy calls from the pitwall — only to turn up in the final minutes of the race as Kevin Magnussen, on his debut outing in F1, and Jenson Button homed in on third and fourth places, respectively.
Their promotion to second and third after Ricciardo’s disqualification meant there were no celebrations. When asked how he would toast this momentous start to his F1 career, Magnussen, 21, shrugged and said: “Nothing.”
“Keep your feet on the ground,” Dennis told his driver.
“A very wise old man went into his house and nailed to the ceiling was a pair of shoes. I asked what they were for and he said they were his son’s shoes because every time he sees them it reminds him to keep his feet on the ground. I will put some in your hotel room.”
So the race turned out to be one young man’s dream and another’s nightmare. Ricciardo now needs his day in court to resurrect that dream.