Daniel Ricciardo still asking ‘why the hell did that just happen’ with his MCL36

Michelle Foster
Daniel Ricciardo in the car wearing fireproofs, helmet on the nose. Baku June 2022

Daniel Ricciardo concedes there are still times he is asking himself “why the hell did that just happen” as he struggles to understand his MCL36.

Languishing in the bottom half of this year’s Drivers’ Championship standings, 2022 is yet again proving to be a frustrating season for the eight-time grand prix winner.

Struggling with a lack of understanding regarding McLaren’s 2022 challenger, Ricciardo is down on pace, lacking in results and could yet find out that 2022 is his final season in Formula 1.

It is disappointing given that this season, with its all-new cars with their ground effect aerodynamics, he had hoped to close the gap to his team-mate Lando Norris. Instead it’s even wider than last season.

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He explained to Motorsport.com: “The regulations make the car feel different, but the DNA of the car is still very similar.

“Some of the things from last year which I struggled with, they are still in this car. It’s something I think we are starting to understand better what it is.

“Because obviously I tried to describe it, but to really understand, is it aero, is it is geometry, like… you know what I mean?

“We are starting to understand better what it is, and Lando also does complain about it. I think he’s just used to it.”

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However, the Aussie’s attempts to get on top of the problems haven’t been helped by what he says are “new” problems emerging.

“Some of the, let’s call it struggles or difficulties, are a carry over – and then there might be a few new things where you’re like, damn, okay!” he explained.

“It kind of just comes down to the feel. It’s probably still hard to get a read, I guess, and to really build consistency in a race sometimes. My lap time variation might be quite big, and that’s normally like uncharacteristic.

“That kind of highlights where I’ll get caught off or something, I’m like, ‘oh shit, I didn’t expect the car to do that in that corner.’ It’s still just a little bit tricky to read I guess, going on a simple term.

“That’s where it can build some frustration, like, ‘why did I lock up then? I didn’t do anything to provoke that, so why the hell did that just happen!’ Just stuff like that.”

The 33-year-old insists it is getting better.

“Some days when it’s eight tenths off… me, I don’t believe this can be possible, you know?” Ricciardo said. “Because even you look across the grid, even the best driver on the grid, whoever you say it is, whoever someone says it is, they are not eight tenths better than the second best. Like, this is a big gap.

“There is still a lot I’m trying to learn with the car and understand, not always that easy to figure it out, but I feel we are getting closer.”

Three new cars in four years isn’t helping Daniel Ricciardo recover

Ricciardo left Red Bull after the 2018 season chasing new adventures, but the same dream, the Drivers’ World Championship title.

But while his former team-mate Max Verstappen has achieved that with Red Bull, winning the 2021 championship, Ricciardo has managed just one win in three-and-a-half seasons.

Not surprising when one considers that he is onto his third brand new car this season.

2019 and 2020 he was with Renault but quickly realised that move was not going to yield the success that he wanted, whether that was because of the car or the team he hasn’t said but he was very quick to jump ship to McLaren, signing with the Woking team just 12 months into his two-year Renault deal.

Then in 2021 he was in the McLaren MCL35 with its over-air flow philosophy and now he’s in a completely new McLaren with F1’s new ground effect aerodynamic era.

That’s three different car concepts in four years.

Given that a large part of Ricciardo’s strength comes from his braking ability, it is no wonder he is finding it difficult to get back on top. Even on his good days, his braking is still not what it used to be.

“Going from Red Bull to Renault and Renault to McLaren, probably the braking is the biggest thing which it seems like you need to adapt,” he said at the start of his McLaren career. “That’s one where I’m still trying to get on top of it and understand where the limit is, of the car.”

There have been only two moments this season where Ricciardo’s braking has made headlines, the most recent being his two-for-one pass on the Alpine team-mates in Hungary.

Perhaps if the braking comes back, so too will Ricciardo’s overall form as it will be the first indication that the under-fire driver is at one with his car.


Beginning of the end for Ricciardo at McLaren?

Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren career has never really been able to take off, and it may be coming to an end sooner than expected.