Imola ‘exposed’ Ricciardo’s first issues with McLaren

Date published: October 5 2021 - Jamie Woodhouse

Daniel Ricciardo at the British Grand Prix. Great Britain July 2021

According to Daniel Ricciardo’s race engineer Tom Stallard, it was at Imola where the reality hit of the struggles ahead.

Expectations were high when Ricciardo arrived at McLaren for the 2021 campaign, but it has been far from an easy process to live up to them.

For most of the opening half of the season Ricciardo lagged comfortably behind team-mate Lando Norris, and it was at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Round 2 of the season, that Ricciardo’s struggles truly came to light after a decent debut in Bahrain.

“I think the Bahrain race [where Ricciardo finished P7 to Norris’ P4] he did quite well, but that was with a lot of time in the car in the [Bahrain] test – I mean, not a lot of time but a bit of time at the test, and a circuit that suits him well,” said Stallard in an interview with the Formula 1 website.

“And then at Imola [where Ricciardo finished P6 as Norris claimed a podium in P3] we kind of exposed the problems, if you like, that he was having with the car, and we understood the struggle that we would have.

“We put in place a plan of what we needed to do differently and how we needed to react. And since then actually, we’ve been on an upward trajectory from that point, but you don’t always necessarily see that from the outside.

“There have been a number of races where after the race, he’s been frustrated and I’ve been reassuring him that actually we are seeing progress, and we don’t have the good results yet but they’re coming.”

Asked what it was about the MCL35M which unsettled Ricciardo, Stallard replied: “Ultimately, all the drivers would choose the same thing, which is very good rear stability, and front end that increases as you add steer.

“That is totally universal, but the truth is that having a car that does that is the Holy Grail of Formula 1 design; every team up and down this paddock is trying to do that, and succeeding to a greater or lesser extent.

“We have a car that understeers and that’s been something that he’s had to adapt to and modify his natural approach to get the best out of.”

Daniel Ricciardo answers questions at Sochi. September 2021.

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After the summer break Ricciardo has looked far more comfortable in the McLaren though, with a breakthrough victory arriving at the Italian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo himself spoke of the importance of the shutdown to help him reset, and Stallard agrees that the Aussie is no longer overthinking things.

“For me, the difference with the break is that it helped him not overthink it,” Stallard stated.

“So he’s adapted better to the way you have to drive our car without it being completely conscious every corner, what you need to do.”

That being said, Stallard compared the Italian Grand Prix to Bahrain, believing that “in Monza, the circuit and our technical package aligned well”.

So, Stallard is prepared for further ups and down even though Ricciardo now knows how to drive the MCL35M.


“He now understands how to drive the car; I think he’s felt that himself rather than it just being explained to him, which means we have made another step,” said Stallard.

“But it’s a much more linear process than it appears from the outside.

“And I also think that on any journey, although I describe it as a linear process, there’s still ups and downs, and there’ll be events in the future that are more difficult and that we’ll have to respond to and react to.

“It would be naive to think it’s plain sailing from here – but I think that it’s a good next step.”