Daniel Ricciardo’s eighth Grand Prix victory is arguably his sweetest, his first as a non-Red Bull driver and with it ending a nine-year winless spell for McLaren.
The aftermath of Monza 2021 has been all about the Hamilton-Verstappen collision, with McLaren and Ricciardo’s achievement overshadowed by the shenanigans of the two title contenders. Even if the two title contenders had survived, they would have been hard-pressed to beat the Aussie in a race he felt he ‘owned’ from Friday onwards.
From the moment he took the lead at the start of the race, with an audacious move from second on the grid, he seemed destined to win in Italy where, poetically, the Ricciardo family originated from. As mentioned, this one was sweet!
On Sunday afternoon after a drama-packed race, there was nothing to stop the Shoey on the podium, with teammate Lando Norris and team boss Zak Brown celebrating a memorable one-two. While McLaren are not yet the force they once were, they are heading in the right direction. Sunday’s victory is proof that they are back, as is Ricciardo and the biggest smile in F1 history.
After realising he was excess luggage at Red Bull, who vested their future on Max Verstappen, Ricciardo had a lucrative spell at Renault, treading water mainly, before Brown scooped him; an inspired poach by the McLaren team boss.
But the first half of this season has proved to be challenging for Ricciardo. A new team, a new car, a new PU and limited testing conspired against all drivers that were new to their teams. All took their time to get up to speed, none were plug and play.
Making matters worse was that Norris, in the sister car, was in stellar form, the 21-year-old growing with every race and delivering stupendous results, inevitably prompting comparisons between the two boys in Orange, and obviously, things did not look good for Ricciardo.
At the season break, after Hungary, the F1 drivers’ standings: were Norris in third on 113 points and Ricciardo on 50 in ninth.
At Spa, he outqualified Norris for the race that never was after the Englishman crashed during atrocious conditions in qualifying. Next up Zandvoort did not suit their car and they struggled all weekend, Norris claiming one point for tenth with Dan 11th.
At that point, Ricciardo was in urgent need of a big result – for the first time in his F1 career the wrong questions were being asked – and, thankfully for him, the Temple of Speed obliged.
This is what he had to say, reflecting on win number eight in the top flight: “I was just exhausted and when you don’t win every weekend it’s overwhelming and like the attention and the responses is pretty insane.
“So yeah, I had a beer at the track. I left the track at like 9.30 and once I got back to the room it was first time I could actually just decompress. So I had some pizza and some wine but that was it. I was knackered and on top of that, it was the last of the tripleheader. So even without the victory, it’s a tough one to go and party afterwards.”
Earlier, shortly after the race, savouring his victory, Ricciardo made an impromptu call to his folks Down Under: “I was Facetiming mom and dad to surprise them. I was still up but I think dad was celebrating, he did all the drinking that I didn’t and so that was cool.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 12, 2021
Adding to the sweetness of the triumph is that the doubts, that emerged during his drop in form, were dispelled with one masterful performance which he explained: “It’s the product of hard work. The first part of the season was playing catch up because my season started a bit on the back foot.
“But that’s through no fault of anyone’s it’s just me adapting to the car and the team who have been really supportive throughout. I think that’s been some of the internal frustration is that everything around me feels great. It’s just the results weren’t there to complete the picture.
“The August break was just about getting away from it all; a chance to decompress, switch off and reset. Coming into Belgium, I already felt personally more game for it and with that, I drew some confidence. Then Monza from the first practice the car felt pretty good and I felt it could be on.”
On Friday at Monza after Qualifying, Norris and Ricciardo were fourth and fifth respectively, a mere 0.006s separating the pair, but the Aussie was, oddly, not happy afterwards.
He recalled: “Friday evening, I was pretty dark after the qualifying. Relative to this year it was a good session, but maybe the competitor in me just really came out, I can’t even explain it, but it was like a burning feeling inside of me and, I was just like: No, it’s not good enough.
“And yeah, I was like blinkers on for the rest of the weekend. It’s easy to say now because I won but, honestly, there was something that came over me, particularly after Friday evening, and I was just, yeah, I was a man on a mission.
“I’ve definitely carried confidence to race weekends before but not to that level. That was like anger. Yeah, it was. Hopefully not many can relate to it because it feels kind of primal, it feels dirty. It just feels wrong. I don’t just say that to sound cool in front of the camera, it truly is just the other side to me, which, when it does come out. I know that it’s so powerful.
“Like 2014, when I had a breakthrough year [with Red Bull] it was like that when I let those emotions show on track. And that’s why it became so powerful for me. It was a good place to be and I don’t want to say I can’t get there again. Of course, I can but yeah, I just carried it all weekend. You know, it wasn’t like I just woke up Sunday. I’m like, I’m gonna win today. It was there for three, four days
“I like that kind of fire in me, it’s kind of like, yeah, the chip on the shoulder. I like that feeling which makes you feel alive. It’s a good angry, you take a lot of energy from that anger but I don’t think I need to tap into that place all the time.
“I drew a lot of confidence from the weekend, and also the team. A lot of them have supported me and believed in me from the start but this weekend kind of just reassured everyone. As a team moving forward, we can be quietly confident,
“I’ve been here six months… some members of the team have been here more than a decade, two decades even, it’s crazy. Let’s say there has been a rough patch for the team, the last five to eight years… but being around the factory [after Monza win] you see so much joy and happiness, and even just relief on some people.
“It was only a few months ago that Mansour Ojjeh passed away. He was such a key element to the team and I was lucky to know him before I came to McLaren. So I’d already had like a little bit of a relationship and I knew what he meant to me. I can’t imagine the impact he had on members of this team.
“Now a few months later to be here and to have the team back in the winner’s circle… it’s been a ride. And again, that’s just for me being here six months imagine everyone else who have been here longer, so it’s just a lot of good emotions right now,” concluded Ricciardo.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 13, 2021