Ricciardo’s driving ‘like a musician learning their instrument’

Henry Valantine
Daniel Ricciardo McLaren front tyre lock-up. Hungary August 2021.

Daniel Ricciardo locks up a front tyre at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2021.

McLaren racing director Andrea Stella has compared Daniel Ricciardo adapting to their car to the lengthy process of a musician learning to play an instrument to a high standard.

The seven-time race winner has struggled to get to grips with his new machinery this season, being soundly outperformed by Lando Norris in the sister McLaren and holding less than half of his young team-mate’s points total heading into the summer break.

Stella has echoed team principal Andreas Seidl in saying Ricciardo needs to tweak his driving to get the most from the car, but added it may take a while longer yet.

“Our car requires some special adjustments in the driving style,” said Stella, speaking to Auto Motor und Sport. “And it’s the complete opposite of what Daniel was used to before at Renault. Daniel prefers to roll into the corner quickly and not be as aggressive on the brakes as our car requires.

“I like to compare it to a musician. You can explain to a guitar player exactly how to play his instrument. But it takes a long time before he can give his first concert. The progress can only be seen very slowly after many hours of practice.

“Unfortunately, in today’s Formula 1 you can’t practice very well. The winter tests have been reduced to a minimum. Even Friday practice is now an hour shorter. And you have to prepare for the race. You can’t do systematic exercises there for a driver to adapt better to the car.”

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Despite his continued troubles behind the wheel of the MCL35M, the McLaren racing director is insistent Ricciardo’s outlook has not changed – and has not let his head drop in spite of his tough run of form.

“I would like to mention his positive attitude. His motivation is very high and he always enjoys his work, even though it was clear what a long road it is,” Stella said.

“That’s not always the normal case when a driver can’t find that last tenth. That’s why I continue to be optimistic about his future.

“Our car is good in fast corners. For that, it is not so strong to take the momentum at the apex of slower corners.

“We have tried to adapt the car to suit Daniel’s natural driving style. But the engineers’ main goal is really just to improve aerodynamic efficiency.”

Stella said the strengths of McLaren’s car have been weighted towards straight-line speed and how it moves through the air, compared to how it performs under braking.

With Ricciardo’s power on the brakes being perhaps his signature skill in his driving, this has potentially been a key factor behind his struggles.

Stella said there is not much to be done about the car’s wider characteristics though, so the onus is on Ricciardo to extract what he can from the MCL35M.

“Unfortunately, we cannot fine-tune the aerodynamics in such a way that the character changes,” he explained. “Every car produces a special flow pattern that becomes more and more established over the years.

“The characteristics have their origin in developments we did a long time ago…and it will probably also be found in future models, even if the regulations change completely.

“Normally only one of the two [aerodynamic or braking strength] works. Only the strongest cars can do both disciplines. What’s special about the McLaren is that it clearly belongs to the first category.

“Therefore, the responsibility now falls on the driver to adapt. We provide him with a tool that is fast but has to be used in a certain way.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about that at the moment.”