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Brown: I’m still a huge Ricciardo fan and that’ll never change

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When Zak Brown travels he talks… a lot and this past weekend, in Australia, the McLaren boss was confronted by questions regarding the axing of local hero Daniel Ricciardo.

The tale is well told how McLaren paid underperforming Ricciardo to end his contract a year short, to make way for fellow Aussie, the highly rated and immensely hyped, Oscar Piastri alongside Lando Norris as from next year.

Ricciardo is without a drive and is probably going to be on the sidelines next year as Mercedes reserve, a fact that Brown, who ultimately fired Dan, laments as he explained, Down Under, that the termination was necessary for the team, yet they still love the guy leaving the building.

Speaking to Kayo Sports at the Bathurst 1000, which he attended instead of the Grand Prix weekend in Japan, Brown rewound the tape of how everyone at Woking tried everything to make Ricciardo fast again

“Ultimately we weren’t getting the results that we needed and we’re a year-and-a-half into this,” Brown said in the interview. “We’ve all tried extremely hard, we love Daniel, he’s great to work with and continues to be great to work with.

“But we’re in the results business and the results weren’t coming and we felt we tried everything. We don’t really know why it didn’t click, it’s kind of nobody’s fault. We gave it our best. He gave it his best … we just kind of ran out of things to try.

“Sometimes athletes go into slumps or need a change of environment,” ventured Brown, who gulped down a Shoey on the Monza podium last year in what was Ricciardo’s last greatest hour in F1.

Ricciardo arrived at Mclaren with his shares soaring and great expectations

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A famous, albeit fortuitous victory, was made easier when Max Verstappen’s Red Bull mounted the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton that afternoon at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix. Two DNFs for the sure winners was a gift Ricciardo needed.

The firing of Daniel by McLaren, it was a far cry from the bullish atmosphere that prevailed when Ricciardo inked a lucrative deal to dress up in Papaya colours, no performance clauses in the contract meant a trip to the bank for the team’s bean counters for a hefty withdrawal to keep Big Smiling Dan smiling as he walks away at the end of the season.

Ricciardo’s fall from a top-line driver, to where he is now at McLaren is almost unprecedented in sport as, with the benefit of hindsight, his gravest mistake was to leave Red Bull for the promises of Renault and a huge sack full of money; perhaps Karma is wanting her slice of the pie from Dan.

Like most, apart from the big personality, Ricciardo is, Brown admired the racer in him: “I tried to get Daniel before he went to Renault, so this was years in the making. I’m a huge Daniel fan. I’m still a huge Daniel fan and that’ll never change.

“I asked him if he wanted to drive for us in the IndyCar or Formula E… I’d love to keep Daniel in the family but he’s still very focused on F1, which I get, it’s the pinnacle of motorsports. I’d love to race with him again.”

Being paid to leave a team is about as low as it can go for a driver, let alone F1 where the message is loud and clear: You’re too slow, are not good enough, take the money, don’t complain and go early. Love you.

Brown: The toughest thing I’ve had in my time in motorsports

Ricciardo apologises for Sainz crash at Imola as he opens up on 'painful'  Emilia Romagna GP | Formula 1®

However, it must be said, Brown and Andreas Seidl have made it abundantly clear that together they made the call to ditch Ricciardo for the good of the team, and the driver was in the loop says the team boss.

Brown said: “It’s probably the toughest thing I’ve had in my time in motorsports, it wasn’t pleasant, not fun. But my job, along with Andreas, is to make the tough decisions and because we didn’t really see progress happening.

“It was like, we just need to make a change for both of our sakes and hopefully get him in the situation where he can be competitive again and in an F1 car wherever he ends up racing, but a huge disappointment.”

It also emerged that McLaren signed a deal with Piastri in early July, and Ricciardo was allegedly only informed three or so weeks later.

But Brown is adamant there was nothing untoward in the team’s dealings with either driver: “To be honest, on the date, that’s the first I’ve heard. Obviously, I’m not aware of timelines and this and that, what the team’s discussing.”

Brown: We were transparent through the whole process

Seidl slams Brown for Ricciardo criticism as they confirm contract situation

The American team boss conceded: “I know there had been tonnes of media speculation when it happened, how it happened. Daniel and I know what really happened and I think that’s why we still very much have a strong relationship.

“It was all transparent, well-communicated and there are times we can tell people what’s going on and then there are other times we just can’t. What’s most important to me is that when Daniel and I see each other, we give each other a big hug… and we’ve got five races to go and we’re going to give it all we’ve got.

“I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Daniel in the way he has handled himself, put himself out there. I think we’ve owned it together, he is a great individual,” insisted Brown.

Ricciardo has four races remaining in a career that began at the 2011 British Grand Prix, the first race in a half-season of Red Bull-funded drives with HRT before stepping up to Toro Rosso and eventually the senior team.

By the final race in Abu Dhabi next month, before he departs, Ricciardo will have started 240 Grand Prix races, celebrating 32 times on F1 podiums, eight times as a winner.