McLaren showed Daniel Ricciardo the door at Woking at the end of the 2022 Formula 1 season testing, but after the Bahrain pre-season test, I can’t help but feel that was a mistake.
First things first; this is not a Ricciardo-defending column, nor am I a fanboy of the Australian, but the manner in which his form slumped at McLaren poses more questions than answers, as it really is a mystery how he lost his mojo.
Let’s remember that Ricciardo is a race winner from his Red Bull days, and the best driver to hold his own against Max Verstappen up to now, although I fault him for running away from that challenge, especially when his destination turned out to be Cyril Abetboul’s Renault F1 team.
Now the money was good, and given his premature exit from F1 – I struggle to believe he will be back – the money he made from Renault will be good to keep him well off in his post F1 life.
The Renault days
At Renault, it was difficult to gauge Ricciardo’s performance, as with the state of disarray that team was in, one couldn’t easily pinpoint whether the problem was in the driver or the car. In the end, the Australian delivered two podiums for the team before leaving them for McLaren.
Coming to McLaren, Ricciardo was never the driver we all expected him to be when he stepped into the Papaya cars, and his win at Monza in 2021 was an outlier, and Lando Norris would’ve won that race hadn’t the team employed team orders.
And the explanation for Ricciardo’s struggles was always vague, that the car’s DNA wasn’t compatible with his natural driving style, and that he struggled to reset his muscle memory to cope with McLaren machinery.
Is the problem somewhere else?
Both McLaren and Ricciardo waited patiently for 2022, when the new cars will be rolled out, hoping his struggles will subside, but sadly that was not the case, it became worse, and here we cannot disregard the phycological aspect of the driver’s problems. He was under more pressure and frustration was starting to mount. One also cannot count out the fact that Norris was doing such a good job.
But regardless, Norris was not winning, and last year’s MCL36 was far from being a front running car, and the team’s testing woes were well documented.
Now I was watching season five from Drive To Survive, and I heard Norris talk about his struggles with the team’s car in 2022, hinting that something was wrong in it’s DNA which made him work hard to adjust his style to be able to drive it.
Let’s be clear here, Ricciardo with his wealth of experience should’ve been able to adapt to his 2022 ride, so we cannot defend him there, but then again, some blame should be directed elsewhere.