Lando Norris believes the absence of former McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo will leave “big shoes to fill” on the Formula 1 grid in 2023.
Ricciardo will spend this year as Red Bull’s reserve driver having lost his McLaren seat after two disappointing seasons alongside Norris in 2021/22.
The eight-time race winner has seen his place at McLaren taken by fellow Australian Oscar Piastri, who will make his F1 debut at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Sakhir race will be the first time since June 2011 that Ricciardo has not lined up on the F1 grid, though he has regularly outlined a desire to return to a full-time seat in 2024.
Despite repeatedly insisting that he had little sympathy for Ricciardo during his struggles, Norris feels the loss of a driver of the quality and personality of Ricciardo – among the most decorated drivers of the last decade – will be keenly felt in 2023.
He said: “I think what was very good about Daniel was his experience of being a driver who’s won races, who’s achieved a lot in his career of Formula 1 and everyone rates as extremely high, or rates as one of the highest drivers on the grid in previous years, so you have big shoes to fill for Oscar.
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“I would love to see Daniel on the grid just because he’s a very talented driver, he’s a guy that everyone loves for many reasons.
“He always makes races exciting and especially when he was with Red Bull in the past, when he had a car which was capable of putting on a good show, then he was able to expose it and make the most of it.
“It’s not my decision [for a Ricciardo return], it’s up to him to try and do it. [He’s] obviously a lovely guy, so from a respect point of view of course I would love to see him back on the grid and see his smiling face around the paddock every now and then. But otherwise, I’ll see him this year and see what he can do.”
Norris and Piastri head into the season-opening race on the back of a challenging pre-season test in Bahrain, in which McLaren completed the fewest laps of any team.
The MCL60 showed little pace over the course of the three-day test, with the team suffering a recurring issue with the wheel brows.
McLaren are openly bracing themselves for a challenging start to the season, with chief executive Zak Brown recently admitting that the team have not met expectations with the new car.