While Daniel Ricciardo may have taken a hit to his “reputation” at McLaren, he says it was a “blessing in disguise” that the team did not allow him to see out his contract.
Ricciardo is now looking to re-build his Formula 1 career back in the Red Bull fold, following a disappointing end to a horror two-year stint at McLaren, which saw his contract terminated a year early.
Much was expected of this driver and team pairing, and while it did produce a victory at Monza in 2021, Ricciardo overall was comprehensively outperformed by team-mate Lando Norris and found that his confidence and love for Formula 1 took an extreme battering.
Daniel Ricciardo thanks McLaren for ending his misery
Though Ricciardo was prepared to spend F1 2023 as Red Bull’s reserve, the opening came to return to the grid with junior team AlphaTauri following the mid-season sacking of Nyck de Vries, and despite the unfortunate setback of a broken hand suffered at the Dutch GP, Ricciardo is nearing a comeback as he bids to secure a return to the main Red Bull team for 2025.
So, with his career prospects looking a far lot better than they did this time last year, Ricciardo thanks McLaren for putting him out of his misery.
“It’s never the way you want to end something,” said Ricciardo in an interview for Goodwood. “Obviously, the results weren’t there.
“I’m a pretty easy-going guy, I got on with the team, and I didn’t fall out with anyone in the team, but it’s all performance-based and, let’s say, the business side of it didn’t work out.
“At the time, it was a bit of a harsh reality getting fired, but by the end of the season, when I got home for Christmas, I was like, ‘okay, it probably doesn’t help my reputation’, but at that point, I didn’t care anymore. It was a blessing in disguise.
“I needed to step away for a bit, to re-find myself, re-find my love for the sport. If it could have been done in a better way, fine, but at the same time, I don’t think me finishing out the contract this year would have done me any favours.
“I guess, in a way, I thank them for making that decision because we were in a bit of a hole, and I’m not sure we could have got out of it.”
With some questioning whether it was an extreme case of a team and driver pairing not working, or if Ricciardo’s racing ability had hit a sharp decline, Ricciardo admits he too was battling with those thoughts once he left McLaren.
But, his return to Red Bull has helped him regain both ability and confidence, thus allowing him to find closure on that McLaren torment now that he has been able to “get back to being me”.
“I genuinely do feel that I lost some of my technique, some of my strengths,” Ricciardo admitted.
“It felt like when things weren’t working I had to throw them away, and then I’d try some other stuff but that wouldn’t work, then my confidence would go down.
“I had thoughts that maybe I just couldn’t do it anymore. Period! A lot of stuff got lost along the way, and when I got back into the Red Bull sim, I realised I was not a very confident person. In a way that was a relief for me, to see that I wasn’t operating at the level I thought. It kind of justified some of my performances.
“It’s not making excuses because those performances weren’t good, but it was clear to me that it wasn’t me operating at 100%. Yes, I should have been able to figure it out. I couldn’t, but it was a kind of closure for me that I had got a bit lost but I could rediscover things and get back to being me.”
While Ricciardo is targeting a return to the AlphaTauri cockpit for the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, Red Bull boss Christian Horner has suggested the following round in Austin is more likely.