Why Ricciardo says McLaren’s car “speaks Lando’s language” – but Norris disagrees

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Daniel Ricciardo admitted he couldn’t get to grips with the handling of McLaren’s Formula 1 car during his two seasons at the team.

He believes his former team mate Lando Norris sussed the car’s peculiarities better than he did. But Norris doubts that, saying that even after McLaren’s recent strides in performance the MCL60 remains a difficult car to drive.

Ricciardo made his return to F1 with AlphaTauri at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. After qualifying he said he was able to drive with confidence again, something he struggled with at McLaren.

He qualified and finished 13th on his return, despite falling to the back of the field at the start after being hit by Zhou Guanyu. He was encouraged by his first race back in the AlphaTauri AT04, finding out “what the car likes” and learning “a lot”.

Ricciardo is glad to have a car he understands again
“That’s really the most encouraging thing,” Ricciardo told media including RaceFans afterwards. “I felt obviously for whatever reasons the McLaren was normally not speaking my language, and it certainly speaks Lando’s language.

“He certainly knows how to get the most out of that thing. But I felt like, especially last year, it [was] just bit of stalemate and it was really hard to get out of that.

“So that’s why the time off and then obviously a fresh now team and environment [has] obviously been probably the best thing for me. That’s all I can ask for is progress and I think being open to learn again. That’s important as well.”

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McLaren have shot up the F1 order recently with upgrades that has turned their MCL60 into a podium contender. The first upgrade was introduced at the Austrian Grand Prix where Norris delivered McLaren’s first top-five finish of 2023.

McLaren’s car still doesn’t inspire confidence, says Norris
However even after the upgrade Norris continues to find the car’s handling a challenge. He said he was “almost crashing in every corner” and the performance was still limited by “the way you have to drive.”

The car’s tricky handling “is exactly the same, which is I guess kind of our next issue to tackle” added Norris in Austria.

In the two races since then, with further upgrades to his car, Norris has finished second twice. McLaren have “tried to improve some of the handling balance issues that we have,” he said after the Hungarian GP.

“We’ve improved the load side and the downforce and we’ve improved ever so slightly the handling and with both of them, we’ve had a good improvement in tyre degradation at the same time.”

The the upgrade which has delivered a significant step forward in performance, the McLaren remains far from an easy car to drive, says Norris.

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“The car still doesn’t handle anywhere like what I would want from a car. If you said what do you need from a perfect car, I feel like it’s really far away from what I want,” Norris admitted.

“But it’s head is a little bit in that direction, which is a good thing for me, it’s how I want to be able to drive and push the car. It has improved my confidence, I guess.

“We had a car which was inconsistent [and] I didn’t know even last year at times. Even last year when we looked good and I looked confident, there’s still plenty of times last year when I had no idea how to drive the car. I would come in and they would say ‘what’s the problem?’ From one lap to another it just changes and I don’t know how to improve and so on.

“Now I feel like it’s a slightly clearer direction that I need to be working in which is a good thing. I can just focus on more simple things with my driving and little things like this to help be here today.

“So it improved my confidence quite a bit. Not to the level that I still want but to go out and drive how I want and feel confident and just drive freely and not have to think about it too much. It makes a big difference.”

“For me the more I [need to] think the worse I do and now I have to think less which is a good thing.”

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
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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27 comments on “Why Ricciardo says McLaren’s car “speaks Lando’s language” – but Norris disagrees”

  1. Sure, sure Daniel. You chose to ignore / forget that Lando has been complaining about its peculiar handling traits pretty much from the start then?

    Sorry, but this just does not feel good with me. The cars handling apparently still has some of these aspects, but Piastri seems to be able to work with them pretty much the same as Lando does, just to point to what would be possible.

    Who knows, maybe Daniel learnt some strange traits at Renault/Alpine that carried on and hurt his ability to adjust his driving with the McLaren and now he found he doesn’t need at RBR or at AT? Hard to say.

    But it does feel bad when Daniel puts it like this after McLaren have all through highlighted that they weren’t just putting it on him that he couldn’t get much pace out of the car, but from the start also blamed themselves for not being able to help him get more out of it. Meh.

    1. Exactly. Norris has highlighted the same issues.

      The only difference is that he can adapt better, as can Piastri, apparently.

      Not sure what Ricciardo is trying to do here. Just move on.

      1. Not sure what Ricciardo is trying to do here. Just move on.

        Just giving a professional answer to a question he was asked by a journalist I would imagine…

    2. I think paragraph 3 of your comment is the pertinent example. I’ve been astounded by driver’s performance variation depending on car philosophies. If I look across the grid, Hamilton struggled at the start of 22, Vettel was a shadow of himself towards the end at Ferrari, Ricciardo made a mess at McLaren, Sainz is a lot slower now than in 21, Ocon was poor in his return to Renault, Gasly and Albon had awful Red Bull experiences. Just this season Perez is struggling, De Vries has been dropped and Magnussen appears unable to maintain his performances from last season.

      I think we’ve grown up with fairly consistent principles and the recent regulations, maybe 2017 onwards, have led to noticeable peaks and troughs. Now this doesn’t absolve Ricciardo of responsibility, but I think it’s a fair case to say “I struggle under the conditions that the team designed the car around”. Whether Norris would be even faster is neither here nor there, if the teams change the way the braking, cornering or tyre preparation, it’s clearly hard to unlearn bad habits.

      So I don’t think Daniel is ignoring the issues, I think he’s pointing out they suited him to a lesser degree. At top level sport these are important distinctions as evidenced by the number of drivers afflicted with the same stories the past few season.

      1. A very sensible analysis of this I think.

  2. As any sport, F1 is a big mental game. If you are not confident (either in yourself or the car), you are slower. Vettel went to winning 9 races in a row in 2013 to winning none in 2014 (his teammate Ricciardo won 3 races). Then he left for Ferrari and went on to win 14 races for the Scuderia. This has to apply to Ricciardo as well. Whether it was indeed the car or not, fact is that he lost his mojo at McLaren for whatever reason. He can get it back in a different car/environment.

    Now you could argue that these kind of slumps won’t happen to true champions like Hamilton or Verstappen, but for instance Hamilton lost 7 races in a row from his teammate Rosberg in 2015-2016 and I am sure Verstappen will encounter a slump too someday.

    1. Good point there yeah. A driver needs to feel the confidence to get results. In a smaller way we are probably seeing it in recent races (less so in hungary) with Perez, we’ve seen it with many top drivers in the past.

      Confidence in oneself, the car, the support of the team all play a role in that.

  3. Interesting. Didn’t Horner say though that Daniel had picked up some really bad habits in his driving whilst he was away from the Red Bull teams? Presumably these bad habits were an adjustment to try to get the best out of the McLaren? Something he was clearly not able to do. He’s not saying it is McLaren’s fault. Just that it seems to suit Lando very well.

    We all have our different traits and likes/dislikes. Every driver is different and will have different preferences in car set up and handling. It’s too early to tell how well Daniel is adapting to the AT. Let’s see what happens there and everything will become clearer.

    1. It doesn’t suit Norris. He’s been complaining about it for years.

      1. But it suits/suited him more than it suited Ricciardo. That’s the point.
        It isn’t a black and white scenario – they can both be uncomfortable and lacking confidence in the car, but to different degrees. One driver will almost certainly be less comfortable than the other, no matter which team it is and who the drivers are.

      2. Robert Henning
        27th July 2023, 14:23

        Or he just complains to make himself look good.

        Let’s not forget that Norris only has ever driven a McLaren and the 2022 version of the cars sucked for everyone, given stiffer suspensions and the general ride being not so good compared to before. The design teams tend to have certain characteristics baked in usually.

        Ricciardo was excellent in every car except McLaren, so I believe he has more perspective than Norris on this issue.

        Although Ricciardo looked the worst driver on the grid, thanks to Norris’ proficiency in the same car.

    2. Robert Henning
      27th July 2023, 14:24

      Yeah, exactly. Thanks for spelling it out.

  4. Then you get Alonso – gets the best out of any car he drives – next level!!

    1. Usually, yes. But that’s why he’s special. Not every F1 driver is at that level.

      1. Nobody between Robert Kubica and Max I’d say, although Kimi came close. On the other hand Seb was supremely well adapted to a niche car, the blown diffuser RBR, and was below average in pretty much any other car.

        1. Interesting comment about Seb, here what I read regarding Max at https://www.f1technical.net/features/23505?sid=4e09840978832e37f53d8ec17702f7e1

          Ultimately, the concept of a high rake allows the reduction of understeer in low-speed corners. With this, the car has a controlled lateral grip (at the limit of lateral slipping of the rear), controlled by braking deceleration and the steering wheel angle given by the driver, thus keeping the percentage of oversteer (controlled oversteer) of the rear end and minimizing the understeer (min. understeer) of the front end. So far, not all drivers can drive this type of car as correctly as Max Verstappen can, because Adrian Newey allowed him (almost from his start in F1) to learn and develop the driving technique of a high-rake car (Figure 10)

  5. The cars handling apparently still has some of these aspects, but Piastri seems to be able to work with them pretty much the same as Lando does, just to point to what would be possible.

    I think you’ve come close to the nub of his.

    Piastri clearly listens to what Norris says about the handling and then treats the car the same way, while Ricciardo didn’t really listen and expected the car to be changed so that it behaved more like the Red Bull he got used to winning in.

    Unlikely to happen, each design team will introduce quirks in the behaviour, and those quirks have an up side and a downside. As long as the optimum setup doesn’t present as a knife edge, it is possible to tweak toward each driver’s preference without losing performance.
    The knife edge of adjustment is what the Mercedes drivers were complaining about the other week.

    1. Doesn’t matter if the edge is that of a steak knife, or a wooden butter knife, I had high hopes when Ricciardo announced that his right foot would finally be commanding Mercedes power. I really was expecting him to spend first half of Season1 getting situated in the team and then leave his teammate in the dust/show him how it’s done after the summer break. Then come McLaren Season2, Ricciardo would’ve had a Mercedes engine + car better tailored to his wishes, and a McLaren renaissance would begin. Ah, such naive fantasies.

      I would expect any racing driver able to reach F1 on merit to be able to adapt sufficiently to a racing car (Babby-Stroll clearly does not fit the criteria of merit). Ricciardo failed to do this. With hindsight, cracks were already visible during his stint at Renault, but his performance with McLaren seasons was quite bad.

      This makes me wonder how would Lando fare in a different car…

  6. The title of this article is like the “Drive to survive” summary of what is actually said in the content (raising hand palms emojy)

    1. Lewisham Milton
      27th July 2023, 12:21

      Eh? What??

  7. It’s probably too simplistic to say “a bad workman blames his tools” but you get the point.

    Oscar Piastri seems to have sussed the McLaren despite having had a year out from competitive driving too.

    I’ve always loved Daniel but he clearly isn’t an “any size fits” kind of a driver. He has his sweet-spot and that is pretty much it.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      27th July 2023, 15:17

      But it could be argued that Vettel had a sweet spot too bearing in mind that 48 of his 53 wins came from the front row.

      Daniel Riccardo by contrast only two of his wins came from the front row, the first six did not

      1. I agree.

        It makes drivers like Alonso appear all the more impressive.

  8. Be interesting to see an article comparing Ricciardo and Piastri alongside Norris. By the end of the Hungarian GP, Piastri was almost 30s behind Norris so struggles with the McLaren compared to his teammate. Obviously many variables are playing a factor here but would just like to see some stats between the two drivers and Norris.

    1. Robert Henning
      27th July 2023, 14:20

      Oscar had floor damage at the end of his first stint.

      He was faster than Norris in the first stint.

  9. Norris for sure think very high of himself for beating Ricciardo. A rookie Piastri is already doing better than this guy he beat the last 2 seasons as if it was some big deal.

    And let’s not forget he lost to Sainz two seasons too, the 2nd one he was no rookie anymore and Sainz was unlucky in some races like Silverstone and still came out on top.

    1. Prove it. I’m all ears.

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