Daniel Ricciardo has hinted his expectation level set by McLaren may have been too high, for he was expected to come in and “kick ass”.
Now in his second season, the Australian has never looked fully comfortable in the McLaren car. For all his smiles and jokes off-track, it has been a different story on it and aside from a win in Monza last year his form has not been what the team would have been expecting.
As such, there are strong rumours the 33-year-old is heading for the door, with his fellow Australian Oscar Piastri set to replace him.
There has been no official word from McLaren or Ricciardo himself, who took to Instagram on Monday with a holiday picture and the caption “hello”, but the driver has been speaking about the expectation placed on him.
Ricciardo said he thought the team had expected him to hit the ground running but that it has actually been a slow process, one which is not yet complete.
“This time last year there was probably a little more head-scratching from everyone,” he told RACER. “And I think that’s because…the truth is, I think they just expected me to get into the team and kick ass. So there was probably still some pure head-scratching, like ‘hmmm, what’s happening?’
“And that was probably overriding what needs to happen. I’m just speculating, but maybe too much energy was put into the why’s and this and that before it was ‘what do we need to do now to make him feel better?’.
“But this year, there’s more understanding and they know me now after a year, so I think it’s very clear what I like in a car, and even I’ve found this out.
“So when I struggle, the team now are like ‘oh, I can see it in the data, this is what Daniel is feeling and he’s proven in the last 18 months this is what he doesn’t like to feel. This is what’s holding him back from pushing the car to the limit, it’s this area here’.
“So in terms of development, but even things like tools – on the switches, diff and these sorts of things – we are able to play with and there’s a bit more of a clear direction on that. So that’s where I feel like we are more on top of what I need. The path is more clear of how to get there.
“Last year, it was still a little bit of ‘f***, what is it? What’s holding him back? Why’s he so much off the pace?”
Ricciardo admitted he thought the 2022 regulations might bring him better fortunes but that with his experience in the sport, he was wary of having too high hopes.
“Maybe this is with experience now, I’m always just a little cautious of how much to hope for, or how much to expect or wonder. You never know.
“I think that’s everything, even if it’s updates or whatever. If they’re like ‘this is going to be 0.3s’, let’s see it on track.
“Even if the team said we’ve got an update this weekend that’s worth a second, I’m not going to do cartwheels until the stopwatch says that. And obviously that’s nothing against the team, I just think it’s important not to get too high in this sport because it can certainly bring you back down just as quick.
“It was exciting [to have a reset], but then I also look back at the second half of last year and although it still wasn’t the best second half of a year I’ve ever had, it was a lot better than the first. I’d built up a little bit of momentum with that car, so I was also like ‘if the rules don’t change, I think I’m in a good spot to start the second season now’.”
Daniel Ricciardo faces a fight to salvage his reputation in the sport
When Ricciardo left Red Bull in 2018 he did so as undoubtedly one of the best drivers on the grid. He had managed two third-place finishes in the Drivers’ Championship behind only the dominant Mercedes duo and had it not been for Max Verstappen’s rise in the sport and the team, Ricciardo may have stayed at Red Bull.
But one of the most in-demand drivers opted for pastures new. He plucked for the project at Renault, one which significantly increased the size of his wallet but also one he believed he could be a major part of. The team were attempting to return to the top of the spot and Ricciardo wanted to be the man who took them there.
But things were tough going. In his first season in the black and yellow of Renault, Ricciardo ended ninth and without a podium to his name – the first time he had failed to do so since leaving Toro Rosso.
In his second campaign he did achieve that elusive podium, but it came against the backdrop that his time at Renault was coming to a close with a move to McLaren confirmed.
McLaren were a team on the rise having fought with Ferrari for third place in the Constructors’ Championship, so Ricciardo can be forgiven for thinking he was improving his chances of consistently getting back on the podium – yet the reality has been far from that.
Take out the win in Monza and he has failed to do so even once and seems at a loss as to how to get the best from the McLaren car – something his team-mate Lando Norris seems able to do.
This consistent frustration appears to have affected him and the late-braking, daring Ricciardo that most fans know him for seems more reserved than usual even if his off-track demeanour does not show it.
At 33, Ricciardo is not one of the young ones anymore and there is a legitimate question of how long he has left. An end to his career now would seem premature, especially with a rumoured return to Alpine on the cards, but Ricciardo needs to start performing – and soon – if he wants to remind everyone of the racer he once was.
Norris continues to shine for McLaren
Lando Norris is still the bright light coming out of McLaren at the moment.