Caught in the crossfire of public opinion regarding the end of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren stay, the Aussie says he felt for his replacement and compatriot Oscar Piastri.
After months of speculation and continuous questions about his future, the beleaguered Ricciardo put out a joint statement with McLaren as Formula 1 returned from the summer break to announce 2022 would be his last season with the team.
While the Aussie evaluated his options for a 2023 race seat, the pickings slim giving how the silly season had imploded a month prior, Piastri came in for some stick for being the one to oust his compatriot.
At the same time the then-Alpine reserve driver was also having to deal with the fall-out from rejecting Alpine, as the Enstone team so publicly saw it, in favour of signing a contract with McLaren.
As the drama played out, Ricciardo was the one to pick up the phone to Piastri to let him know there were no hard feelings, the 21-year-old calling the eight-time grand prix winner a “true professional”.
Ricciardo says he “felt” for his compatriot as, while he was in the middle of it all, it wasn’t something he had created.
“I felt for him,” he said on the the Australian Grand Prix’s In The Fast Lane podcast.
“Don’t get me wrong, of course my career was kind of in a way going tits up so I was certainly very occupied with myself in trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do.
“But at the same time I was aware of some of the comments and stuff that was going towards him… I felt for him for a few reasons.
“This should be one of the biggest moments of your life, getting into Formula 1, it’s a dream come true. And if it can’t really be enjoyed or celebrated then it’s a bit of a shame.
“It was just how the chips fell. He was in the situation, but it’s not like he created the situation. It was just a product of all these things happening and he was the guy.”
‘Mark Webber had a job to do to secure his driver a seat’
Ricciardo also doesn’t hold any grudges against Piastri’s manager Mark Webber.
In a strange twist of fate, Ricciardo was the one to replace Webber at Red Bull, taking his seat after the 2013 season with Webber calling time on his Formula 1 career.
Now it is Piastri who is the Aussie replacing Ricciardo on the grid, although the 33-year-old may yet return.
Webber is said to be the one who approached McLaren as he chased a 2023 race seat for his driver, the one who made McLaren realise they have options other than Ricciardo.
The Honey Badger says the 46-year-old was just doing his job.
“Mark has a job to do trying to find his driver a seat,” he continued.
“I get how people were like, you’re doing that to another Aussie, blah, blah, but I certainly didn’t view it like that or take it like that, we’re all just trying to do the best we could.
“And no one really knows (Piastri) yet as a driver or an character, an individual, so it’s a little harsh that he’s getting some stick when people just making their own assumptions. I felt for him.
“This should be one of the proudest moments of his career, not something that he’s scared to talk about.”
Ricciardo has opted to sit out the 2023 season, the Aussie signing with Red Bull as their reserve driver with an eye to returning to the grid in 2024.