Daniel Ricciardo sought ‘answers’ after ‘punches in the gut’ at McLaren

Henry Valantine
AlphaTauri driver Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo gets comfortable in the cockpit of his AlphaTauri.

Daniel Ricciardo admitted his confidence took “quite a few punches in the gut” at McLaren, and wanted to return to the Red Bull fold to prove he could still drive.

His contract with McLaren ended a year early after two largely disappointing seasons alongside Lando Norris at the team, victory at Monza in 2021 aside, with the Australian out of a race seat for the first half of 2023.

He initially returned to Red Bull as third driver before replacing Nyck de Vries part-way through the season, but explained that taking on reserve duties came with more attached than simply wanting to stick around the paddock.

Daniel Ricciardo wanted ‘peace of mind’ with Red Bull simulator runs

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

McLaren CEO Zak Brown put the public split with Ricciardo up there as one of the hardest things he has had to do at the helm of the team, telling a recent episode of the Track Limits podcast that it’s “great to see Daniel doing so well at AlphaTauri because he’s a great, great guy.”

But for the eight-time F1 race winner, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner believes there were bad “habits” that crept into his driving after seeing his first runs on the simulator which had put him below the level he used to be, which have since been ironed out.

While Ricciardo heard positive feedback from people he spoke to within the paddock after being let go by McLaren, he wanted to know for himself exactly where he stood – which is in part how his move back to Red Bull came about.

With a full-time deal in place with AlphaTauri next season, he is looking to potentially partner Max Verstappen at Red Bull again come 2025.

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“I wanted to get some answers, just for my own peace of mind,” Ricciardo told media including PlanetF1.com in Abu Dhabi when asked about any self-doubt he was facing at the end of 2022.

“I would speak to some people in the paddock just in passing even, or you might bump into someone at breakfast at the hotel, and I would get some positive feedback or encouragement in terms of, ‘I’ve seen what people are saying, they think you’ve forgotten how to drive. It’s bullsh*t, you don’t forget how to drive overnight’ and the kind of, ‘don’t lose your confidence, you’ll find your way back if you want it’ – so there’s definitely some positive stuff like that.

“That’s why as soon as I spoke with Helmut and Christian towards the end of last year, and the thought of just being back in that family and just even having a go on the simulator, having some data with Max again, and then obviously Checo, I was like, ‘okay, even if it’s a simulator, I just kind of want to see if I can still do it and if the car feels the way I want it to feel’.

“I was curious because, as much as the McLaren I felt, obviously, it didn’t suit me, I felt like it was certainly compounded over time with my confidence dropping and getting kind of lower and lower, after obviously taking quite a few punches in the gut.

“So yeah, a lot of things I wanted to answer.”

Read next: Daniel Ricciardo’s most important contribution to AlphaTauri revealed by Christian Horner