Daniel Ricciardo’s ex-team-mate reacts to struggles which ‘don’t make sense’ as pressure mounts

Thomas Maher
Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo's recent struggles in F1 are a source of puzzlement for former teammate Nico Hulkenberg.

Nico Hulkenberg is finding Daniel Ricciardo’s struggles for performance baffling, having seen no signs of it during their time as teammates.

Hulkenberg and Ricciardo were teammates at the Renault squad in 2019, Hulkenberg’s last full-time season until his return with Haas in 2023.

Daniel Ricciardo’s struggles ‘don’t make sense’

Ricciardo moved to McLaren in 2021 and it quickly became evident that, unlike at Renault, the Australian was struggling to get the most out of his car.

Despite winning in Italy, Ricciardo’s confidence seemed to take a dash – to the point where, at the end of 2022, McLaren bought him out of the final year of his contract.

Ricciardo found refuge with Red Bull as a reserve driver and, following an impressive tyre test with Pirelli in the RB19 last year, secured a full-time return with the AlphaTauri team – now renamed RB for 2024.

But precious little appears to have changed, as Ricciardo has struggled to keep up with Yuki Tsunoda and endured a horrible weekend in Australia after being knocked out in Q1 due to a track limits breach, while Tsunoda went on to finish in the points.

Having worked closely alongside Ricciardo in 2019, Hulkenberg said he doesn’t really understand what’s going on with his former teammate.

“No, it doesn’t really make sense, and I don’t understand it,” Hulkenberg told the media in Australia when asked about Ricciardo’s struggles.

“He felt, in 2019 when he moved in, he was very competitive and on the pace.

“Since then, the McLaren times, which obviously were still the same generation cars [before] the new generation cars, yeah, it’s tricky.”

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Hulkenberg opted against trying to guess why Ricciardo might be struggling.

“It’s tricky, especially from the outside, if you don’t have all the info and all the data, it’s tricky to judge,” he said.

“But yeah, I don’t know why”.

As for whether he sees a drop-off in performance from Ricciardo since his days at Renault five years ago, Hulkenberg said he suspected as much.

“It appears that way, yes,” he said.

“I think he’s still good but maybe, back then, he was stronger maybe.”

Daniel Ricciardo: I thought we’d start 2024 stronger

Having taken in the full pre-season preparation and testing programme with RB, Ricciardo himself has said he expected to start 2024 in a much stronger way than has played out.

“I didn’t expect to start the season like this,” he admitted in Australia.

“Budapest last year, I drove the car a day before, and then I outqualify Yuki and had a really strong race – and with no knowledge.

“And then having a full pre-season and all that, and all the races last year, I honestly thought that this year we would start a lot stronger.

“So there is that which I don’t understand – not only me, but a few people are wondering why.”

Despite his troubles, Ricciardo is remaining calm and focused on trying to improve his situation – with 21 races left in the season, the Australian has a good chance of turning things around if he can find whatever is missing.

“I think the important thing is that I stay on course,” he explained.

“It’s not that my head is filled with nonsense or anything. I honestly feel good.

“And just, unfortunately, the results haven’t made me feel awesome. But, deep down behind the wheel, I do feel good and excited and just want to keep racing.

“And I’m sure I’ll find a bit more in myself, and I still believe maybe we’ll find a little something on the car.”

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