His sensational win at Monza in 2021, which was the first McLaren had scored in nearly nine years, was a reminder of Daniel Ricciardo’s undeniable talent. However, it will also be marked as an outlier from his time at Woking, unless he manages to pull off a heroic performance in the second half of the season.
Few thought things would end like this. Ricciardo’s arrival for 2021 was seen as a coup for McLaren, which snatched the Australian from Enstone’s hands in a move that looks set to be repeated with Oscar Piastri .
Ricciardo’s problems last season were blamed on acclimatizing to a new car philosophy, which was gradually ironed out and led to victory at Monza. It seemed clear that he was ready for the second year with McLaren.
However, the potholes in his path not only continued, but deepened. After 13 races in 2021, Ricciardo had 56 points and had finished nine races in the top 10. His haul this year? Only 19 points , achieved in five races, and three of which are due to sixth place in the Imola sprint.
So why has Ricciardo had so much trouble with McLaren’s Formula 1 cars over the last two years?
Most importantly, to note that while the 2022 regulations may have heralded a technical overhaul for F1, they have not eradicated many of the features of McLaren’s car that made it so difficult to drive last season. The MCL36, like the MCL35M, excels in high-speed corners, but struggles more when it comes to tackling mid-speed ones.
At the end of last year, McLaren technical director James Key spoke of his desire to attack weak points and “account for them with a blank sheet of paper”, assuring that there was no “inherited behavior in a new car”. like that”. But Ricciardo ended up facing the same difficulties with the new car.
“The regulations make the car feel different, but the DNA is still very similar,” Ricciardo told Motorsport.com in an interview ahead of F1’s summer break, before plans were put in place for his replacement by Piastri.
“Some of the things from last year that I struggled with are still in this car. It’s something I think we’re starting to understand better what it is. Because obviously I’ve tried to describe it, but to really understand if it’s the aerodynamics. , if it’s the geometry, like… you know what I mean? We’re starting to understand better what it is, and Lando [Norris] is complaining about it too. I think he’s just used to it.”
Lando Norris will throw up his hands and admit he’s in a similar situation with the quirks of this year’s McLaren car.
“The car I have now is not at all what I want for my driving style, and it is very unsuitable for me,” he told Motorsport.com during the Hungarian weekend. “It’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is, and you have to adapt to it.”
“So I feel like I’ve done a reasonable job this year, adapting to something that’s not exactly what I want or like.” He added with a laugh that he was surprised he managed to finish on the podium at Imola, given the limitations of the car.
That highlights the big difference between Norris and Ricciardo this year. While the Briton has been able to adapt and work around the characteristics of the MCL36, the Australian has struggled to do so in the same way as his teammate.
Ricciardo has always been a driver who has benefited from having complete confidence in his car, which has allowed him to be aggressive and do what he wants with it. The McLarens of the last two years have not given him the opportunity to do so.
Ricciardo explained that there have been new issues with the car this year that have doubled as hiccups: “Some of the, let’s call them struggles or struggles, you drag them in, and then there may be some new things you’re like, dammit! , OKAY!”.
“It’s just based on feel. I guess it’s still hard to understand and get consistency in a race. My lap time variance can be quite big, and that’s not very characteristic.”
“That kind of highlights the places where I’m caught off guard or something, and I’m like ‘oh shit, I didn’t expect the car to do that in that corner.’ It’s still a bit hard to read, I guess, using a simple term.” .
Norris has been more consistent in the races and Ricciardo has tended to drop more towards the back due to these breaks in pace. The Australian has also had a harder time understanding why the car reacts the way it does at times: “That’s where some frustration can come in, like ‘why did I block then? I haven’t done anything to provoke it, so why the hell? Has that ever happened?’ Stuff like that.”
The adjustment that Norris has made compared to Ricciardo has gone a long way towards explaining the differences between them at points this year. Surprisingly, it hasn’t dampened the Aussie’s confidence or caused him to doubt his ability.
“Some days, when there’s eight tenths of a difference… I don’t think this can be possible, you know?” he said. “Because even you look around the grid, even the best driver on the grid, whoever you say he is, whoever somebody says he is, he’s not eight tenths quicker than the second best. It’s a big difference.
“There are still a lot of things I’m trying to learn with the car and understand, it’s not always that easy to understand, but I feel like we’re getting there.”
And Ricciardo has always had that confidence that things would work out. Repeating his win at Monza may be an exaggeration, but he never failed to state that a big step forward was not far off. “Obviously, we’ve tried a lot of things,” he explained. “I think this year we’ve understood more, and some of that understanding has definitely carried over from last year. I still don’t do extraordinary things, I’m not saying a win is going to happen in a week, but I feel like it’s going to happen.”
“That’s definitely what keeps me motivated. I see that the team around me believes it too. They don’t just tell me what I want to hear. There’s an explanation behind the madness, so to speak.”
But the leap forward Ricciardo needed didn’t come fast enough. As much as McLaren said it was committed to bringing its driver up to speed, its patience ran out. Piastri ‘s surprising availability turned into an opportunity the team deemed too good to pass up, even at the cost of an established race winner in Ricciardo.
That’s the thing to remember in all of this. Daniel Ricciardo is an established winner . His eight F1 wins have come with cars that weren’t the fastest on the grid, showing his ability to get the most out of the machinery he’s given. However, sometimes the driver-car combination doesn’t work well, and that’s what happened here. It’s not entirely your fault that this partnership didn’t work out.
Wherever Ricciardo ends up, the goal will be to rediscover his talent and, to some extent, rebuild his reputation. A car that you can fit in with will be the key to getting it quickly.