The 2022 Formula One Monaco GP weekend was another disaster for one of the paddocks most likeable driver’s. Aussie Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of Practice 2 losing valuable setup time. Though it appears the real blame for this incident sits with his engineers who in error set the ride height of the car too low. It then bottomed out on entrance into the swimming pool complex causing Ricciardo to have a dramatic shunt. Certainly, it appears that McLaren has screwed Ricciardo over, not just for the shunt, but over his entire career at the Woking team.
Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull Racing at the end of 2018 This was most probably because he felt the team had significantly favoured Verstappen in a heated dispute over the two drivers taking each other out of the race in the Baku GP.
The Aussie then headed to Renault and for two seasons he comfortably bested his team mates Nico Hulkneberg and much hyped young gun Esteban Ocon.
Then in what appeared to be a surprising decision to the Renault team management, late in the 2020 season Ricciardo announced he was leaving to go to McLaren. He would replace Carlos Sainz who had partnered Lando Norris for two seasons.
The attraction for Daniel was clearly that McLaren had secured P3 in the constructors title in 2019 and appeared on their way back from the abyss they had occupied for some while.
Season 1 for the Aussie looked promising, Ricciardo won in Monza something his young gun team mate Lando Norris has yet to do – win a race that is. This was McLaren’s first win for 9 years since Jenson Button took the chequered flag P1 in Brazil 2012 and the team were ecstatic with their new driver signing.
The fact that Ricciardo scored just 105pts across the 2021 season to Lando’s 150pts was largely ignored due to the new found belief he had given the team that race wins were indeed possible. Add to that it is normative for a new driver of proven experience to struggle with consistency in their first season with a team.
Roll on 2022 and McLaren fans were hoping for a Battle Royal between their team’s drivers. Yet this has failed to emerge.
7 races in and the downtrodden Ricciardo has scored just 11 points to Lando’s 48. Daniel has also finished in the top 10 just once in 7 races. By way of contrast, Norris has a P3 podium and 4 other top 10 finishes.
Making matters worse for Ricciardo were comments made by McLaren CEO Zak Brown following the 2022 Spanish GP. Brown rather threw his driver under the bus. When responding to a journalist’s question about Ricciardo’s struggles with the new car, Brown revealed:
“I don’t want to get into the contract, but there are mechanisms in which we’re committed to each other, and mechanisms in which we’re not.”
“I spoke with Daniel about it. We’re not getting the results that we both hoped for, but we’re both going to continue to push.”
Using uncharacteristic Aussie diplomacy, Ricciardo responded to his boss’s criticisms. These are “comments I don’t take personally. I’m tanned, thick, and beautiful. It’s been certainly testing at times. We are working hard at it. The team wants it and I want it (to do better).”
Jenson Button waded in when asked whether Brown’s negative revelations were out of order.
“Zack is his own man and I can’t change his thoughts or what he says, but I was surprised he came out and said it.” said Button, adding “Everyone on the team needs to protect these drivers.”
Yet whether Brown’s words were meant as a piece of reverse psychology type motivation or a genuine threat is for now unknown.
In a well argue but lengthy piece, Jacob Polychronis writing for Fox Sports proposes the theory that McLaren may well have deceived the Australian F1 driver when joining the Woking based team.
Jacob writes, “If you’re feeling confused, in disbelief over how it all came to this so quickly, then spare a thought for Ricciardo who’s ultimately been set up for failure.”
The Fox writer argues that Daniel’s driving style never suited the direction the McLaren car was being developed. He cites evidence of this theory in an exchange between the Carlos Sainz who Riccciardo replaced at McLaren. Sainz apparently asked Daniel “how he was adapting to the ‘strange’ car.”
Ricciardo’s response was “And I was like, ‘Thanks for telling me!’”
If Polychromes theory is true about the McLaren car being ‘strange’, there are shades here of Mark Webber partnering Sebastian Vettel 2010-2013. Adrian Newey had developed what Webber described as a car that was ‘counter intuitive’ to drive.
The 4 times title winning Red Bull car design used engine mapping together with aero design to use the exhaust gasses to activate extra downforce, therefore to deliver ‘on throttle braking’. This meant you had to drive into a corner ‘throttle on’ to brake and turn into a corner – when the intuitive way would be to use the actual brake. Webber struggled with this for season after season.
The Fox article describes at length how McLaren are unpicking all the best aspects of Ricciardo’s driving style, but in the end the proposal that McLaren lured Daniel Ricciardo under false pretences doesn’t hold water.
Mark Hughes wrote of Daniel Ricciardo, “In 2014 and ’16, in particular, a very strong case could be made for him as the season’s number 1 performer,” which is one of the reasons McLaren signed the Australian.
Anyway, the 2022 cars are a very different philosophy from the one Daniel was ‘lured’ to drive so why is he still struggling?
Well an obvious reason is because Ricciardo missed most of the pre season testing due to Covid restrictions and so even though the 2022 new car designs are a leveller for team mates, he was on the back foot from the first test in Barcelona.
The Fox article suggests McLaren is a ‘forward looking team’ and “It’s therefore no surprise that McLaren is already deep into its succession planning with development contracts for the likes of young American drivers Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta.”
Yet to argue McLaren would ditch Daniel Ricciardo mid season for either of these unproven drivers in for the birds. The IndyCar series is great entertainment but few drivers come from what are relatively simple V8 machines to the highly complex world of the F1 car and succeed.
In the end, like his countryman Mark Webber, Ricciardo will have to learn to drive the McLaren in a fashion that may feel “counter intuitive”; And the said reality may be like Webber for the foreseeable future both Daniel and the team accept that he “isn’t bad for a number two driver”.