Why Ricciardo said ‘yes’ to McLaren the second time they asked

2021 F1 season

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It’s 10 years since Daniel Ricciardo arrived in Formula 1, backed by Red Bull. He served apprenticeships first at HRT and later Toro Rosso before moving up to the top team.

Having become a multiple F1 race-winner with Red Bull he made the shock decision to leave the team in 2018. Among the teams he spoke to at the time was McLaren, but Ricciardo passed them over when the opportunity to join Renault appeared.

Ricciardo did just one season in Renault colours before surprising the paddock by confirming another change of team. The second time around, the seven-times grand prix winner accepted McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown’s offer. After seeing out the second year of his Renault deal, Ricciardo made his debut as a McLaren driver this week, and speaking at the launch of the MCL35M he admitted he’d always had a soft spot for the team.

“As a kid you remember two teams,” he grinned. “Obviously being of Italian background Ferrari was a team I remembered, and there was McLaren. Being a big fan of Senna as well, and Alain Prost, getting to work close to him the last couple of years at Renault, that was really cool.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Silverstone, 2021
Ricciardo had his first run in the new McLaren yesterday
“One of the very first gifts I bought myself once I was in F1 and had enough money to buy a pair of jeans, the first real gift I got was a McLaren road car. That was still while I was at Red Bull so I had to keep that a little bit under wraps!”

But why did a self-confessed McLaren fan turn down his first opportunity to join the team? And what changed which prompted him to say ‘yes’ when Brown came knocking again less than two years later?

In 2018 McLaren was in the early stages of an extensive programme of reorganisation, following the end of its failed reunion with Honda the year before. Throughout those tough years McLaren indicated the engine side was its greatest weakness. But their first season as a Renault customer laid bare the shortcomings on the chassis side as well.

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Brown began a shake-up of the team, which eventually led to the arrivals of Andreas Seidl as team principal and James Key as technical director – the latter a known quantity for Ricciardo from his Toro Rosso days. But those personnel changes lay in the future when Brown attempted to lure Ricciardo away from Red Bull.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Silverstone, 2021
Long-term Renault user Ricciardo now has Mercedes power
“At that time I was able to make statements that I had yet to deliver on,” said Brown. “We’d get a great team principal, great technical director, we’d have the resources that we need.

“I think 18 months on I was able to demonstrate to him after he met Andreas and was obviously well aware of James and the whole team, I think that went from some statements to factual elements that we could show.”

Ricciardo felt “there were still quite a few moving parts” at McLaren when Brown first approached him. “Ultimately not only the results weren’t quite there on track yet, but they were still trying to figure out their own structure. And I think they’ve really established that now.”

The timing of Ricciardo’s decision to join McLaren – facilitated by Carlos Sainz Jnr’s decision to join Ferrari in place of Vettel – was complicated by the pandemic. Ricciardo spent one season at Renault, tested their 2021 car – and then Covid-19 struck the world. His home race, the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, was called off the day practice was due to begin.

From there he returned to his parents’ farm and contemplated his future. Following further discussions with Brown, complicated by poor Internet and mobile phone coverage, Ricciardo agreed a three-year deal to join McLaren.

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Interactive: Compare the new McLaren-Mercedes MCL35M with last year’s car

The decision stung Renault. Cyril Abiteboul, the team’s managing director at the time, couldn’t even bring himself to refer to Ricciardo by name in his statement responding to the move. “Unity and commitment are, more than ever, critical values for a works team,” he commented tersely.

The implication of Ricciardo’s move was obvious and since joining McLaren he has stated it plainly. Notwithstanding Renault’s status as a full works team, he reckons a McLaren-run Mercedes-powered customer car is a better bet for his hopes of winning the world championship.

“His statements are he believes this is his best chance,” Brown acknowledged. “I don’t think we’ve put a timeframe on that. But Daniel is going to be with us for many years.

“I think we’re a team on the on the rise and hopefully he will, along with Lando, help continue to move the team forward.”

Throughout last year, as Renault made steady gains and Ricciardo’s results improved with them, he had to bat away questions about whether he’d been too hasty in jumping ship to McLaren. His first run in the Mercedes-powered MCL35M yesterday will have given him the first clue whether it was the right move. We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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38 comments on “Why Ricciardo said ‘yes’ to McLaren the second time they asked”

  1. The move to Renault never made sense to me. Aside from the money a somewhat haughty French team seemed like an awful fit for a jovial guy like Ricciardo. I get that his only options were Renault and McLaren, and McLaren came off of a less-than-stellar first season with Renault engines, but it was pretty clear that they were on an upswing.

    On the other hand, Renault was the only works team available to Ricky, and if you’re gonna leave a race winning team with potential to become a WDC contender, you have to at least justify the move to yourself in that sense. Going to a Renault customer team over a Renault works team doesn’t make that much sense in that regard.

    Either way, I’m happy he’s made the move now, look forward to seeing him and Lando on the social medias and what not. Hopefully there’ll be some consistent podiums in his near future.

    1. $50M is a good reason.

  2. McLaren has the most interesting line-up this year.
    They have an experienced consistent top level driver with WDC qualities matched with an up and coming talent who is willing to learn.

    Mercedes doesn’t have this as Bottas seems to have reached the crescent of his learning curve (done years ago).
    Red Bull is in a (fortunate) difficult position as their up and coming driver is the most consistent as well. It will be a chess game to get their more experienced driver to not only play the team game in annoying the competition, but also push his younger teammate without breaking the team harmony (as happened with him in the past).
    Ferrari is in the most difficult position. Their young talented driver is still on a steep learning curve, but now matched not with a mentor but with a driver who thinks that he can become the number one. Vettel and Leclerc was a perfect match, but Vettel did not live up to his role for whatever reason, and Leclerc had to sort it out by himself.

    Alpine’s line-up could also be interesting, but I’m not sure Ocon is even at the level of Vandoorne. And I wonder what the years did to Alonso.
    Aston Martin. I can only hope that Vettel recovers his Red Bull days, and Stroll can accelerate his learning curve.

    1. All this sounds true. Agree that Red Bull has a great but difficult line-out. Maybe there are very specific clauses to Perez about what he needs to do and not to do if he wants another year at Milton Keynes.

      1. Line-up (oops)

      2. Interesting, it’s been smooth sailing for Max the last couple of years while Perez never seemed to care what the boss would think before and I can’t imagine he needs to stick around for the paycheck.

  3. I don’t think any driver on the grid would want to sign with Mclaren during the 2015 to 2017 era.. it got better in 2018 once they got rid of Honda, but things were still too unstable, as Ricciardo put it.

    I think 2019 really showed that Mclaren were back on the right path… and Renault less so. Heck, if you beat the Renault factory team in only your second season as their engine customer, it shows that there is enough capability in Mclaren to outperform Renault in the years to come. Once they announced they were moving to Mercedes engines, it became a no-brainer for Ricciardo.

  4. I hope McLaren takes Red Bull out.

    1. Oh so do I. so bad :-)

      1. And also, I’ll spare Pérez.

    2. I hope Haas will take Mercedes out.

      1. With Bottas being spared sometimes.

      1. Ramming into them, Mister Enemy.

  5. It’s such a shame that he didn’t end up at Ferrari already for 2017, 2018 and 2019. We could have had some incredible tight championships with him racing that car.

    Seeing the progress Ricciardo helped Renault make, let’s hope he can bring McLaren even closer to the front. They already had a decent car for 2020 and by switching to Mercedes probably gain about 2 tenths extra on the engine.

    1. Yes, 2017 could’ve been closer, and he probably would’ve won 2018, I’m not one who believes the 2019 ferrari was good enough to fight, but he could’ve won more races.

  6. If he stayed in RBR he might have ended up an option alongside Russell at Merc in 2022. Maybe even the Ferrari this year alongside Leclerc. He’s certainly better than Sainz.

    He kind of panicked into leaving Red Bull. Ran from a fight as Horner would say. I think he could see the writing on the wall and knew he’d be replaced like Gasly or Albon and all the drivers before him if he didn’t start matching Max. Since 2018 Max is an even more complete driver now certainly the quickest on the grid.

    Ricciardo’s going to spend the peak of his career in the end at teams that have no real chance of competing for race wins.

    He’s a guy with a big ego and loves bringing attention onto himself. I think his ego couldn’t handle being second best to Max at the end of the day.

    It’s a shame really.

    1. I respectfully disagree. He did not run from a fight. When the team decides to back 1 driver over the other. Then how can he stay in a team he does not whole heartedly trust?

      1. They don’t back a driver.

        Verstappen demonstrated he was quicker than Ricciardo.

        The contact in Baku was way overblown. Ricciardo made a reckless dive bomb he was never going to make into a tight street circuit corner. Verstappen only moved ever so slightly, but should have left more room for a teammate.

        1. Max lost sight of Daniel that is why they collided or Daniel fake dive worked to well it’s in the past now.

          Daniel said several things about his bailing but he never said Max was favored. More the luck he had (not) for the money they would pay him roughly thesame amount as Max. These were the words of Daniel himself so gues why he switched.
          Didn’t he believe in the Honda project… he certain thought he was cursed with all those breakdowns maybe it was that.

          1. ‘I delivered the verdict on the crazy dive and now it’s time to put it all behind us’??
            While Ric mentioned the engine change at the end of 2018 whatever he really meant when he left, the string of breakdowns were Renault powered (test mule?).
            He made it positively crystal why he left RB and even from what little we saw of just the aftermath of Baku it’s obvious (the why is more debatable but there would need to be extraordinary evidence for the default interpretation to not be: RB standard operating procedure). So RB said they wanted him but Renault’s offer was better… The ego thing could have been the decider for him (if so it’s artfully tempered) either way he chose obviously – would anyone want him to choose a losing proposition (or pass up the opportunity to tell administration where to stick it?). If so, do we stop respecting all drivers that ever jumped ship?
            This time around, Ferrari either didn’t want him matched up against Leclerc; or thought they could sell more cars with Sainz; or thought that Sainz was faster; or didn’t show the love (this time or last); or upcoming Ferrari problems might have been more obvious on the grid. I’m biased to 1&2 for now but I’d be interested in the full story one day.

    2. They all have egos, but Ricciardo seems to have the least issue with it together with Leclerc, Norris and Raikkonen.

      Yes, he probably ran from being beaten too much by Verstappen, together with the knowledge that the team was never going to give him the best deal, but probably more because it was hurting his reputation and his chances at a Mercedes than just a bruised ego IMO.

      The switch from a works drive at Renault to a customer team like McLaren is a strange one, but I guess he’s seen something at Renault that was not promising. Or maybe it it was simply that he knew Alonso was coming back to his old team and could see the writing on the wall was similar to how it was at Red Bull.

      1. Daniel and Alsonso could be more poisonous then he want to be with or thought McLaren with Mercedes is much beter?

        1. @macleod Maybe he also thought this will get him closer to Mercedes. They will now interact in some small way after all.

      2. Staying at RBR, Max would have made him look second rate 2019 and 2020. Ricciardo would be under all kind of pressure now and ironically someone like Albon would probably be getting a drive for 2021.

        Going to Renault, he left with enough of his reputation in tact and is commanding big money. I’m surprised that he’ll be 32 this year he seems younger, this will likely be his last big contract unless he just blows Norris and whoever comes after him away.

        He might be yesterday’s news if he Max kicked his teeth in at RBR. Might be back at AT or looking for a drive with Alfa Romeo.

        1. Completely agree, Dan saw the writing on the wall and chose to get out whilst his price was still high, who can blame him, its not like redbull have had a championship car since he left

          had he stayed with Max, he might be a couple of tenths off in qual and competitive in alot of races but Redbull being Redbull would have dropped him for someone like albon thinking he wasn’t performing….

          Albon would have still be 0.5 off max and horner would have realised he has just fired a much better driver….and that would have ruined Dans career.

          I hate to say this as a massive dan fan, but ver is faster, no doubt about it. And dan is a top 5 driver IMO, but why hang around in an underperforming car, in a team moving away from you… take a chance… who knows how mclaren will do this year, he could still win a championship before verstappen, i dont think that would have happened at RBR

          1. I think Ricciardo would have the edge on Hamilton in a straight fight (look at Monaco 2016 pressured Hamilton into a mistake Hamilton lucky to hold on to the win). Verstappen was a beast at 18 he’s going to be scary at 28 if he gets a car that can compete.

          2. I agree verstappen is faster and that ricciardo is top 5 (assuming russel is indeed like verstappen), but I’m sure he was more than good enough for red bull, they would’ve never shown him the door unless they got their hands on a 2nd verstappen; gasly and albon were seriously underperforming, ricciardo was still driving very well, he split wins with verstappen when there, which the other 2 didn’t get anywhere near.

          3. Ah, forgot, you see now they got perez? He’s at best a ricciardo I believe, so people like him are definitely good enough for red bull.

  7. Mac is going to be fun to watch this year. I’ve always had a soft spot for them too going back to the ground shaking Can-Am cars, the brief time Gilles had there, and then of course Senna. I hope they continue their upswing.

  8. I’m pleased for Daniel. From afar it seemed to me he was hardly ever going to win a race while at Renault. Now he has that opportunity. I think this year is going to be interesting, what with the improvements at McLaren, Lawrence Stroll running Aston Martin, and a new management at Williams.

    1. And perez at red bull!

  9. The fact that his big money move to Reanult for 2 years helped him bank a nice healthy sum that rarely comes about in most F1 career surely helped. Even if McLaren were offering way less money which they are, He’s just had 2 huge paydays so the the risk-reward between being paid less & waiting it out for a big name & big resource brand with way more proven success & stability than Renault makes it a win win really. Generally I’m sure Danny Ric is happier wherever he is without being at Redbull whilst things turned toxic & Max held all the cards, that was always the right call

  10. I think Daniel’s move is another brave one what with Renault improving, but may well turn out for the best. McLaren have one the best driver line-ups on the grid now with Lando who did well last year and is familiar with the team and the talents of Daniel as well. He is, and has consistently been one of the top 5 drivers on the grid so things are looking quite bright for them I think.

    Renault do seem like they are on the up as well but I cannot really see McLaren being less competitive than they were last year and who knows they may well spring a surprise. Outside of a drive with Mercedes and Red Bull they are probably overall the best option for the medium term.

    I still think Ferrari should certainly have been after getting Daniel to join them once they knew they wanted to be rid of Sebastian. I am surprised they did not. Charles and Daniel would on paper look like a more balanced partnership than him and Carlos in the same team. I think things may take a while to settle there. I guess they felt Carlos was a better longer term propsect.

    1. Or they can also make wrong decisions obviously, look how many mistakes on the pit wall etc., just because they’re the most popular team doesn’t make their decisions always right, case in point they probably kept raikkonen too long, although he improved in 2018, and I’m pretty sure they kept vettel too long, I’d have dropped him after the incredible amount of 2018 mistakes.

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