Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022

McLaren’s poor start to 2022 is the latest setback in Ricciardo’s life after Red Bull

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When Formula 1 released a video on social media last week capturing drivers’ reactions to the announcement of its new race in Las Vegas, Daniel Ricciardo was shown joking he “was going to retire” but that he “will no more.”

It was an example of the wisecracking style has won him many fans. Yet he must feel some unease, and perhaps concern over his long-term future, as his career has not delivered the results which were expected of him since he left Red Bull three years ago.

McLaren have suffered their worst start to a Formula 1 season since 2017. Ricciardo and team mate Lando Norris failed to reach Q3 in either of the first two races.

But while Norris recently committed his long-term future to McLaren at 22 years old, Ricciardo is closer to the other end of his F1 career, aged 32, with no sign of a world championship title looming.

Ricciardo’s F1 career started back in 2011 as the Formula Renault and Formula Three champion got his break midway through the season at the back-of-the-grid team HRT, on loan from the Red Bull programme.

HRT gave Ricciardo his F1 debut in 2011
He recently said in an interview for McLaren he felt “thrown to the wolves” on his debut “because I was only told a week beforehand that I’d be racing.”

“I wore myself out trying to do too much,” he explained. “It wasn’t the perfect preparation. You’ve only got so many hours in a day and I was trying to take in as much information as I could in a short space of time. I was trying to be a hero when, really, the key was to just get the basics right.”

Regardless of the tricky start, Ricciardo’s energy was infallible, and the ‘Honey Badger’ quickly became a fan favourite as he made his way via Toro Rosso to top team Red Bull in 2014. Ricciardo’s breakthrough was one of the talking points of that season, as he scored his first F1 win in Canada and delivered two more victories in Hungary and Belgium.

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He finished third in the drivers’ standings ahead of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who duly left to join Ferrari. It felt like it was only a matter of time until Ricciardo himself became a world champion, with such promising race craft, a handful of wins and the confidence of beating such a highly-rated team mate.

Ricciardo left Red Bull after seven wins for the team
But Red Bull struggled in 2015. Ricciardo’s season was marred with engine woes and a string of bad luck. He rebounded in 2016, finishing third in the standings in his best finish to date.

He also beat his new team mate, a hotshot named Max Verstappen. That result didn’t tell the full story, however, as Verstappen was promoted to Red Bull five races in, won on his debut for the team and finished just 52 points behind Ricciardo in the standings. A new star was rising and the dynamics appeared to change at Red Bull despite Ricciardo out-scoring his new team mate again in 2017.

In 2018, Ricciardo was comfortably beaten by the Verstappen. Not only this, but the partnership was proving to be tense, exemplified by their dramatic, race-ending collision in Azerbaijan. Ricciardo elected to move to Renault, saying he was seeking a new challenge.

Rumours inevitably surfaced that intra-team politics had come into play for Ricciardo at Red Bull. Irrespective of why his departure came about, a good opportunity had seemingly passed him by.

“We put offers in front of him that were stratospheric,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said in an interview with Australia’s Daily Telegraph. “But Daniel could see Max in the ascendancy and he didn’t want to become the second driver.

“His timing was spectacularly bad because, obviously, he had doubts about the Honda engine and then [Honda] went on to prove there it was a competitive power unit and a race-winning package.”

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Since Ricciardo left Red Bull, the team made huge steps forward with Verstappen alongside a string of interchanging team mates. Their gamble paid off last year, taking him to the title in one of the most memorable and controversial seasons in the history of F1.

Marshals retrieve Daniel Ricciardo's wing, Albert Park, 2019
Lap one as a Renault driver did not go well
Meanwhile Ricciardo’s choice of Renault over McLaren at the end of 2018 backfired immediately. McLaren finished ahead of their engine suppliers in the 2019 standings. Before the pandemic-hit 2020 season made its belated start, Ricciardo opted to switch camps the following season.

That move hasn’t gone quit to plan either. Norris picked up three podium finishes and scored more than double the points of Ricciardo heading into the summer break in 2021.

But Ricciardo came back fighting in the second half of the year, taking McLaren’s first win for almost a decade at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Norris finishing second. “Deep down I knew this was going to come, so thanks for having my back,” Ricciardo told his team on the radio after taking the chequered flag. “And for anyone who thought I left, I never left. I just moved aside for a while.”

One of the most promising talents on the grid sent a clear message to those who doubted him. Ricciardo explained his comments after the race: “I appreciate that message was going to be directed at I guess people who did maybe think that I’d checked out and that I was on my way out or a little bit washed up or whatever.

“But still, first and foremost, that message was for me because there were times where I did lose a little bit of faith and I did second-guess myself like, why am I struggling so much? Do I have now a little bit of fear that I’m not pushing the car as much?

“I knew I didn’t, but still when things aren’t going well, some of these questions pop up. So the ‘I never left’ was also for me to be like, I can still do it, I still belong here. And anyone that forgot, then forget no more.”

Ricciardo has admitted homesickness played on his mind at times, particularly during trying moments last season. During the off-season he made it home to Australia for the first time since the pandemic began.

McLaren have neither performance nor reliability at the moment
At 32, he still has time to win a championship. But McLaren’s lapse in form at the start of 2022 and Norris’s long-term commitment to the team leaves Ricciardo in an uncertain position once again. Returning to his home race this weekend, a venue where his record is not great (due in part to his 2014 disqualification over a technical infringement which cost him a podium finish), Ricciardo will be keen to impress in front of his home crowd.

The last time he raced at his home circuit was his first race after Red Bull. He made a less than ideal beginning to his new life, destroying his front wing within metres of the start after running off-track.

That didn’t bode well for the years which followed, during which time Ricciardo’s career has veered on- and off-course and the perma-smiling fan favourite at times became an unfamiliar, dejected figure in the paddock. By his own admission, Ricciardo questioned if he had “lost faith” during 2021. He has another trying season ahead in his fourth year after leaving Red Bull.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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30 comments on “McLaren’s poor start to 2022 is the latest setback in Ricciardo’s life after Red Bull”

  1. He had a great career with Red Bull, was driving like a future world Champion, beating past and future world champions as team mates. But he wanted something different, he had been with the Red Bull family for a long time and wanted a change. Fair enough, but it was not the smartest move in hindsight. I hope Mclaren can improve, but they look too far back for a win this year.

    1. Indeed hindsight is always easy, but there were some signs at the moment he took the decisions that it would play out the way it eventually did. First of all I think his likeable character somewhat boosts the perception of his performance. In hindsight Vettel turned out to be a mediocre driver that just happened to have a race winning car for four seasons. Max was just getting started while he knew the car and team very well, so it was expected he initially would be able to beat him occasionally. So a more realistic self evaluation should have given him the insight he was at a very good place at RedBull if winning races is what you are here to do. Then he panicked seeing Max grow (inevitable and beyond his control) while he should have been more realistic and just take some wins and help RB to also land the constructors. It is one of the most likeable characters around so I hope McLaren will provide him a car he will win with once again, but I do not see him outdrive Lando over the course of a season.

      1. Yes, I also felt like the move was gonna be a losing one immediately, he tried to imitate hamilton without knowing what hamilton knew about mercedes.

        Vettel had more than a race winning car imo, a significantly better car than the competition on average (not exactly dominant, especially in 2010 and 2012), but then again he’s also good at driving fast at the front, his weakness is wheel to wheel racing.

        1. @esploratore1

          Vettel also seems to like strong rear end grip, so the blown diffuser really suited him.

      2. Calling Vettel mediocre is a bit harsh imo. He did some brilliant stuff in those days, but lost it a bit after pressure on him mounted.

      3. Vettel is mediocre? what a ridiculous statement to make.

        1. Is it? His pace with no cars around is stellar, but he is not very skilled when in traffic.

      4. Real F1 Fan (@)
        7th April 2022, 14:20

        I suspect Horner telling the world the team was going to be built around Max had a lot to do with it.

  2. What exactly does he mean by ‘only told a week beforehand’?
    This can’t be about his Mclaren move announcement timing nearly two years ago, given racing was on a hiatus, etc., so I can’t figure out.

    1. Derek Edwards
      7th April 2022, 8:13

      My understanding is that’s about his debut, not his McLaren debut.

    2. As Derek mentions, this is almost certainly about his F1 debut with HRT at Silverstone in 2011 @jerejj

      1. @bascb @eurobrun @Derek Edwards
        OK, I get now.

    3. He’s talking about his F1 debut (with HRT). It was simply that the interview was with McLaren

  3. Self-inflicted set-back.

    Ricciardo has made a bunch of terrible decisions in 2018, seemingly based on emotions rather than rationality. In 2018 he was 100% running from Max (rightfully or wrongfully) when he left Red Bull despite Ferrari and Mercedes interest not being there. it was obvious he intended to go to one of those two teams, but when those options dried up, instead of making the wise choice of staying with the race winning team, he needed to leave. So he chose the midfield. McLaren came knocking, and despite their obvious investments for the future, he chose to go to Renault. I’m sure part of that choice was money, but Danny could have known the quality of their engines and general performance from driving Renault-powered cars. It is then no surprise that being at an often lower-midfield team would do him no favours. Then, he still ended up moving to McLaren after the fact. This was also a poor move. Renault was still a works team with sizeable budget. It was moving up in the world with some good hires and by removing Abiteboul. And there was a rule change coming where the car could’ve made to Ricky’s exact specifications so he could go back to doing his dive-bombs, perhaps.

    Instead, he moved yet again to another team, with a customer engine, and now he’s at an age where interest from top teams is unlikely. He doesn’t get to drive a race-winning car (along with the interest from other teams driving at the front that would bring), he doesn’t have the youth, he doesn’t have the pedigree that his race wins before 2018 gave him, he’s shown other teams that he’s unlikely to commit to a team long-term and stick around when the performance isn’t as he expects it, and ultimately with team-mates outperforming him, the only place he can go now team-wise is further down. In summary, especially during his Renault-stint, he was acting a WDC before he ever was one and overplayed his hand.

    Ricky will go down in history as a what-if story. What if he just stayed at Red Bull for another season or two? Got some poles, got some race wins, probably wouldn’t have beaten Max, but might now have been in Sainz’ Ferrari seat or perhaps taken over Bottas’ seat at Mercedes. This should be a cautionary tale for other drivers, never give up a seat in a race- or championship-winning team out of pride or emotion. Better to be a second driver and at the front, then perceiving yourself to be a first driver in the midfield.

    1. Hard to disagree as harsh as some of that sounds. He’s in a situation now where if McLaren do turn their form around, I fear it will be Norris in front most of the time anyway.

    2. @sjaakfoo

      In 2018 he was 100% running from Max


      1. @johnrkh think you need to justify your comment: Ricciardo was absolutely running away from the certain fact he was going to continue getting beaten by Verstappen

        1. I mean, there’s that. One could also explain it as Ricky leaving because of the way the team started treating Max, rather than Max’s on-track performance, etc. But that’s why I added “rightfully or wrongfully” to that statement. It’s probably a mixture of both, Max’s on-track performance as well as him emerging as the team leader overall. There is an argument to be made for Daniel’s point of wanting to leave Red Bull because of Max’s position in it. The problem is that if you’re going to leave a team for that reason, you had better make the alternative better and that’s where he failed imo.

          1. It was great decision by Red Bull, Max was the future and he delivered.

          2. @sjaakfoo My issue was with the reply to your comment. I agreed with what you said

      2. I think ‘running from Max’ is far too simplistic. At the time, DR said it was the hardest decision he had ever had to make. And I believe that, since Max, Horner, and everyone else at RBR were very very surprised when he made his announcement to go to Renault. He must have given some strong signals that he was going to stay, as they were convinced he was. And it is also because he found it such a hard decision that I also don’t think he was concerned about them building the car for Max. If that was the case the decision would have been much easier one would think, and there likely would have been hints (or reservations) from DR within conversations that he would have been expressing, such that they wouldn’t have been so surprised when he announced his departure.

        No I have a feeling that what really swayed him was the opportunity he saw in building Renault around him and being the team leader, like Max was becoming, but I see that as different from DR ‘running away from Max’ but rather running towards a similar opportunity to that which Max (and other drivers over the years) had put himself in. And taking away the luxury of hindsight, and recalling DR like all of us doesn’t have a crystal ball, I can see why he made the decision he did.

    3. Absolutely agree, I understand thinking he wouldn’t beat verstappen, but in terms of having a competitive car in the future, leaving a race winning team is just too risky.

    4. I like Daniel but unfortunately I think this is a pretty accurate summary of events. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but looking back he probably should have stuck it out at RBR for another year or two. Who knows, one of the other big two might have come for him at some point.

      The truth is as well, this major rule reset in 2022 was his big opportunity i.e. that McLaren would suddenly produce a really competitive car that could challenge the top 3 teams. However, this too looks like it is going badly for Daniel. He has been quite unfortunate but then he has made some poor decisions.

      I think his only option is to stick it out now at McLaren. I cannot see that he is ever going to to get a seat at the top teams now. Maybe an outside chance at Merc if Hamilton retires suddenly at the end of this year or next?

  4. I have an opinion
    7th April 2022, 11:17

    If Ricciardo is serious about winning major accolades rather than the odd Grand Prix and a swag of money, he should have a tilt at the Triple Crown.

  5. When all is said and done, Daniel will simply not have been good enough to fight for a championship, but go home after hundreds of races, a few wins, and an extra zero or two on his bank account.

    Things could’ve turned out worse.

  6. The scrutiny being placed on him for leaving is insane.

    He wants to win a title. Sure, he would very likely have won several more races if he’d stayed at Red Bull, but he’d have been no nearer a title than he is now when that team was built around Max. He’d put up way more resistance than Perez but the end result would still have been getting shuffled out the way for Max.

    So he moved to Renault (on mega money), a works team, to be the defacto number 1 in the hope they could do a Mercedes or at very least be up and around Red Bull but with the advantage of him being their No.1. Quickly found it wasn’t going to do it, and leaving, even now, they aren’t actually any closer do doing what he joined them to aim for. So that’s proven to be the correct decision even if McLaren hasn’t gone great either.

    Moved to McLaren, who were very much on the up, have lots of things in place to challenge, didn’t get on well with the interim car but got a win and this season McLaren just made a bit of a mess of the new regs, but we’re 3 races in to a new era when development rates are going to be massive and other teams will make their costly errors too in time.

    Sure, the moves haven’t worked out towards his goal yet, but they have been done with the right intentions and probably haven’t actually taken too much away from his goals either, bar a handful of wins.

    1. Indeed, Ric hasn’t been irrational with his decisions, just unlucky (so far).

  7. McLaren are not as strong as last season but still pretty decent, set for their 2nd best season on the hybrid era.

  8. I agree. A lot is being inferred about this season after only 2 of 23 races. Which ever teams first unlock the potential of the new fuel and aero regulations will make dramatic strides. There is no real reason to think that McLaren couldn’t be one of those teams.

  9. Ricciardo is a better number one driver than Bottas. But, an equal or perhaps even worse number two driver, considering the team effort. I don’t think that he will get a new chance in a top team. His only chance for a championship win is if a midfield team manages to make a super car. Not impossible, but unlikely.

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