Daniel Ricciardo acknowledges it was “not the ideal circumstance” having to continue with McLaren after learning of his exit, but he was determined to show his “fighting spirit”.
After months of speculation, McLaren and Ricciardo announced back in August that this past season would be his last with the Woking team, the two having agreed to part ways two years into his three-year deal.
That announcement came as Formula 1 returned from its summer break meaning Ricciardo still had nine races left with the team knowing full well he was leaving.
And it wasn’t because he wanted to, it was because the previous 18 months had been a struggle in which the partnership had failed to live up to expectations.
Finishing well outside the points in his first two races after the announcement, he then retired with an oil leak in Italy, a race that one year ago he won, only to bounce back with his best result of the season in Singapore, P5.
He scored on two more occasions, finishing his McLaren career with a P9 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
He says he was determined to go down fighting.
“I think fortunately I was still able to find some kind of hunger through it all in terms of like okay this is done but I still want to prove himself, I still want to go out and try make something happen,” he told the Australian GP’s In The Fast Lane podcast.
“It’s kind of a thing when your back’s up against the wall, you can just stay leaned up against it or push back off it and that was at least the approach that I wanted to try.
“To find that character in myself to really dig deep. I felt like I had to dig deep the last 18 months and I was alright I have to dig a little deeper now.
“Obviously it was not the ideal circumstance.
“I don’t want to sit here and say it’s easy to just show up and do your job, I just tried to find all these little things that give me the fuel or hunger.
“But I also was under no illusion. This has obviously happened for a reason and it’s because the last 18 months have been a struggle. The likelihood of the last six months being a walk in the park is unrealistic so there will be more struggles.
“So I was realistic with what lay ahead but I was doing my best to embrace it and also know if this is the last six months for me in the sport, make the most of it.
“That kind of mindset kept me with a bit of a fighting spirit.”
‘Get back in a car that allows me to show my strengths’
Max Verstappen recently declared to Formule1.nl: “It would have been better for Daniel if he had stayed longer at Red Bull at the time.”
And he’s right, 101 percent correct.
Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season and ply his trade at Renault was, in hindsight, the beginning of the end for the Honey Badger.
His two years with Renault were mediocre, so much so he made the decision to jump ship to McLaren early in his second season with the Enstone team. Alas his time at McLaren wasn’t even mediocre, it was a struggle.
Neither the Renault nor the MCLs suited his late-braking style with the Aussie conceding his Red Bull return as their reserve driver will allow him to “get back to a car that I’m like ‘oh yeah, this is a car that allows me to show my strengths.'”
He added: “I’m kind of just curious to see how I go back in something which I obviously had a lot of success in.”
So are we.
While no one is wishing ill will on Verstappen or Sergio Perez, there are many in the paddock – and the Honey Badger’s army of fans – curious to see what he could again do in a Red Bull race-car.
All it would take is one stellar performance and Ricciardo could be back on the grid come 2024. But he needs that chance to show the world because right now the only thing fresh in every team bosses’ memory is four years in which things didn’t go to plan.