Why McLaren kept reminding Ricciardo: “It feels slow when it’s fast”

2021 F1 season

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If you’ve ever tried your hand at karting, the following experience may sound familiar.

You’re braking as late as you dare, flinging the kart at every corner, exerting so much effort it feels as if there cannot possibly be another hundredth of a second of lap time to find.

Then, with cruel ease, another kart slips past on a straight. The driver swoops into the next curve and by the time you’re round it, they’re already out of sight.

For a racing driver, knowing the difference between the sensation of speed and actually being fast is everything. The maxim “it feels slow when it’s fast” is well-known. It’s certainly not an idea drivers are still learning when they reach Formula 1, much less when they are veterans with a decade of experience in the sport.

Yet this is exactly what McLaren having been telling Daniel Ricciardo during races – including more than once during this month’s Portuguese Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was mired in the pack in Portugal
The team’s new driver had a difficult start to his third weekend in the car. He failed to progress beyond Q1 at Autodromo do Algarve and lined up 16th on grid.

His race went better. Ricciardo ran a long opening stint on the medium compound – the longest of anyone bar Sergio Perez – and emerged from his pit stop inside the top 10. He had a fast Fernando Alonso in pursuit, and the pair were closing on Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz Jnr.

He was urged on by race engineer Tom Stallard, who also reminded him of those words many younger karters know well:

Lap Voice Message
42 Stallard Ricciardo leaves the pits
Launch map off, launch map off, racing Gasly on exit.
42 Ricciardo You happy with strat four?
42 Stallard Okay, for now, start four okay for now.
42 Stallard Alonso has DRS, 0.9.
43 Stallard And strat six, strat six.
43 Stallard Alonso 1.7.
44 Stallard Strat seven, strat seven. Let’s go get Gasly.
44 Stallard Turn five, remember left-hand toggle, turn five left-hand toggle.
44 Stallard Gasly’s, just passing Mazepin. Mazepin pitted.
44 Stallard You’ve got Gasly and Sainz is ahead of Gasly, he’s struggling with tyres.
45 Ricciardo Understood.
45 Stallard Just take care on the braking, don’t push the brakes too much through the entry.
45 Stallard Remember, we want to make sure we get the early turn-in. Don’t over-push the braking. It feels slow when it’s fast.
47 Stallard Good lap, faster than Gasly. Turn three, suggest right-hand-side toggle to [unclear] on entry.
48 Stallard Ricciardo passes Gasly
Yes! Next car’s Sainz. Sainz has been struggling.
48 Stallard Sainz last lap, 1’22.9.
49 Stallard Okay Alonso currently 1.3.
49 Stallard Alonso may have DRS.
49 Stallard Alonso passes Ricciardo
Okay stay with him, we need to go and use him to get Sainz.
51 Stallard Gasly 0.8.
52 Stallard We’ve had a warning from the FIA, turn 14 exit, don’t run too wide.
52 Stallard That’s another good lap. Daniel.
54 Stallard Good lap. Gasly lost DRS.
55 Stallard Alonso is going to get Sainz soon. That’s your chance.
55 Stallard Understood.
57 Stallard Purple C9, position five, C9, five.
58 Stallard Consider right-hand-side toggle, turn 11, stability.
58 Stallard Alonso passes Sainz
Ahead is Sainz, now let’s go get him.
58 Stallard Latifi and Schumacher are now ahead of Alonso, they’ll have blue flags.
59 Stallard Seven laps to go, gap to Sainz, 1.7.
61 Stallard Four tenths faster that lap, good job.
62 Stallard Quarter of a second faster again, 1.1 now.
64 Stallard Ricciardo passes Sainz
Okay mate two laps to go. Let’s keep it clean now. It feels slow when it’s fast.
65 Ricciardo Understood.
65 Stallard Gasly passes Sainz
Gasly’s the car behind 1.6.
65 Stallard This is the last lap. This is the last lap.
66 Ricciardo Ricciardo rounds the last corner and takes the chequered flag in ninth place
Okay. That was a good comeback guys, good comeback, thank you.

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Ricciardo is one of several experienced drivers at new teams this year who is having to adapt to an unfamiliar car. This ‘back to basics’ approach – in his 191st grand prix – underlines what a fundamental change he is adjusting to.

He passed his McLaren predecessor Sainz en route to ninth
“When you’re wrestling the car, braking late, getting on the throttle and fighting it, sometimes you just scrub off speed,” he explained to RaceFans. “Being more clean and keeping momentum in some corners is meaning it faster.

“It doesn’t always feel fast but you look at the lap time and it’s like ‘oh, okay…’ So you think it makes it easier to drive it faster but you always just want to brake later if you think you can brake later.”

He admitted it may seem strange to hear a Formula 1 veteran, who participated in his 200th grand prix last weekend, being given such a basic piece of driving advice. “You’d think by all these years driving, you’d just know what works and what doesn’t.”

Of course, it isn’t just the variations from car to car he must adapt to, but also the year-on-year performance developments which require all drivers to be totally flexible in how they work the wheel. Sometimes familiar corners require new approaches: Is it quicker to turn in early and carry plenty of entry speed, or to get the car slowed, crank on the maximum steering angle, and fire it out of the corner?

Ricciardo is ‘staying open-minded’ with his driving style
“If I was to watch an onboard of Barcelona three or four years ago, even the lines are a bit different,” Ricciardo explains.

“There’s approaches to corners where you can like ‘V’ the corner – brake late, get it turned and get out. And maybe with like an old-spec car that worked. But now it’s all about momentum, the way the aero packages are.”

His move to McLaren has reinforced the need to keep scrutinising his driving style for potential improvements.

“You do have to adapt,” says Ricciardo. “That’s why you can’t always rely on ‘I used to be good’ or ‘I used to be fast at this track’ because you’ve got to be pretty open-minded and sometimes it does test your… I don’t know if it’s pride, but just your intuition and your experience. But you’ve got to go to stay open-minded and experiment.”

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Author information

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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20 comments on “Why McLaren kept reminding Ricciardo: “It feels slow when it’s fast””

  1. Some good reasons here as to why it can take time for even an experienced driver to acclimatize to a car and team new to him. I especially like the point about car developments year on year potentially changing how a driver may have been used to taking certain corners and thus needing a new approach, and then combining that with getting used to their new car on top of that. There are more than a few posters around here who could heed this article and adjust their patience level towards the experienced drivers who are new to their teams.

  2. Also explains how a change in car style can fluctuate the same driver’s performance.

  3. I think RIC put it perfectly. Learning is often about a drivers ego. “I used to be quick at this corner… so it MUST be the car losing me time”. Instead of accepting your driving needs to change. Alonso has been the victim of his Ego in this respect ever since he joined Mac in 2007. When changing teams/car you need to leave your precious achievements at the door and accept you may need to start again and learn a new/revised driving style. DR wont take long to get on top of the Mac. When he does Norris is going to be hurting.

    1. Alonso has been the victim of his Ego in this respect ever since he joined Mac in 2007. When changing teams/car you need to leave your precious achievements at the door and accept you may need to start again and learn a new/revised driving style.

      You do realize he had to radically adapt to the 2007 McLaren? Ofc you don’t judging by your previous comments.

    2. Do you claim that Alonso did not change his driving style when arriving at McLaren in 2007?

    3. Alonso between 2006 and 2007 was probably the greatest shift in driving style I’ve personally ever seen. Go watch his onboards at Silverstone from 2006 and 2007. It’s so wildly different it’s hard to believe they’re the same driver one year apart.

  4. …PREVIOUS achievements. Not precious, although… 😀

  5. I like his humble approach here, and also that he seems to be one of the few who won’t get tetchy with his engineer.

    Interesting article, although I’m not sure it’s really different spec cars changes it all that much, and maybe it’s the new car and it just feels that way.

  6. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    15th May 2021, 15:20

    Really good article. I think this applies to all the drivers who are either newcomers, have changed teams, or returnees (Ocon last year Alonso this year). With the exception of Mick Schumacher they all seem to be overdriving when calmness is needed behind the wheel.

  7. Another great read! After reading it, that makes a lot of sense, quite a few things in the article that one doesn’t always realize are true

  8. Sometimes it makes me a bit sad how much drivers are coached while driving. I know it’s necessary with these high-tech cars but it seems more romantic to me when the driver drives the car by himself.

    1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      15th May 2021, 20:36

      This was Nico Rosberg’s strength, a methodical intellect who trained himself to extract the maximum from a car scientifically rather than that natural ability (obviously had incredible natural ability also but not on Lewis’s level for example). It was never nice to witness but impressive.

      1. I though that “Natural Ability” was a driver able to use his brain power in harmony with his hands and legs.

        1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
          16th May 2021, 0:11

          Not sure what your pedantic point is. But some people have less natural talent than others but can extract more through determination and application. But thanks for the pointless discussion on semantics.

      2. @rdotquestionmark yeah that was particularly evident during that weird “no coaching” phase, especially at Baku where Hamilton really struggled with the car complexities and Rosberg was much more on top of it.

        It was interesting at the time, but given it’s a team sport, completely unfair I think.

        1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
          16th May 2021, 11:49


  9. Couldnt agree more about the karting. Last year i tried some amateur kart races – Sodi SWS, nothing special since karts in our track are the basic ones that go 60kmh, but it is still fun and demanding for an average person. Well ofcourse at every race some guys came that were semi to full professionals and all i can remeber is that no matter how i tried to maximise my potentional, giving 110%, twisting and turning and literally leaving my soul there, those guys were still few tenths faster than me. But when looking at those who regurarly won, they looked like they are mowing the grass with a landmower. Simple, relaxed, driving like they are on vacation and miles ahead of average Joes like myself. I just couldnt figure it out, since if i tried hard i allways lost it and fell into a slide, and when trying the casual lawnmower approach, i was just too slow. Well being 192cm and being 10 or even more kilos heavier than those arround me didnt help either i reckon. My personal best was fourth and having some time following Tim Gajser, which came as a special guest that day, otherwise i was somewhere in the midfield. Now i got myself a faulty stomach, so my racing career (if i can call it so) is probably over. It was fun nonetheless.

  10. isthatglock21
    15th May 2021, 18:47

    It’s interesting that this is the first year in a long time we’ve seen huge level of leeway given to those new to teams, even with vast experience. Ocon wasn’t given this leeway when had to take a year out in the early formative years of his career before going into a fully new team/engine & going up against Danny Ric. If we only gave more people such a deep level of analysis & explanations & not just the more high profile & well liked ones. But this was helpful, insane amounts of driver coaching that i haven’t really seen before, then again McLaren tend to coach more than others, Even Lando gets a lot of input compared to other top drivers which I always found interesting. Compare this to the article on Max/Lewis’s radios at Spain…they were almost dead silent with only 2/3 real radio calls which were shown live on TV anyway

    1. I would hope that Lewis or Max are have learnt their rides by now. Let’s see how it all goes down next year.

  11. It’s nothing new, whether you have a car that’s faster with an understeer or oversteer style and how that needs to mesh with the driver. Or how driving style has changed with generation, Vettel being able to master the exhaust blown discussed compared to Webber as an example.

    It makes total sense competing with Max at Red Bull why Dan has that aggressive style. It just makes me wonder even more how Albon would have gone at another team with a different car. He may have been quick out of the gate in this McLaren.

    At the end of the day this experience of changing teams and being told he needs to adjust his style will make Ricciardo nothing but a better driver. Especially with the reg changes next year where everyone is going to be getting a feel for wildly different characteristics.

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