Zak Brown on why Daniel Ricciardo issues overshadowed need for McLaren change

Jamie Woodhouse
Daniel Ricciardo in the rain with a McLaren umbrella. Japan October 2022

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo in the rain with a McLaren umbrella. Japan October 2022

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said Daniel Ricciardo’s 2022 struggles “took the headlines” at a time when he was recognising underlying issues at the team.

After McLaren made a poor start to the F1 2023 campaign, admitting that they went into the Bahrain season opener behind target, it was determined by Brown that a complete overhaul of the technical team structure was needed.

There was a great deal of internal movement, with new team principal Andrea Stella, who moved up to that role ahead of the new season, putting these revised pieces in place in a bid to get McLaren back to the front of the grid in the coming years.

There was one high-profile outright casualty though, James Key leaving the technical director role with immediate effect.

McLaren’s drop further down the pecking order in the opening rounds of F1 2023 marked a continued decline from the prior season, where the team had gone from claiming a race win and four further podiums in 2021, to just the one podium finish that time around.

And it was a second McLaren season where Ricciardo struggled for form, ultimately prompting McLaren to cancel his contract as of the end of the 2022 campaign.

That came though after Brown was already dissatisfied with the overall performance of the team, the American claiming that Ricciardo’s struggles were grabbing the headlines at that time.

“We started [2022] with some challenges in testing with the brake ducts. The car was okay,” said Brown as per

“Then we had our driver-related issues that we were working through which took the attention, the headline.

“Meanwhile, underneath the surface, I wasn’t happy with the pace of the development of the racing car. That was the second half of last year – if you look at the pace of development with some of the other teams where they started and where they ended, versus where we started and where we ended.” recommends

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While a great deal of focus was indeed placed on the fact that Ricciardo was simply not matching expectations at McLaren, it had also been noted throughout 2022 that the team was struggling to come good on their aim.

With infrastructure upgrades, including a new wind tunnel, now almost complete, McLaren wants to be a leading F1 outfit again by 2024/2025. With those seasons not far away, it could not be ignored that McLaren seemed to be trending in the wrong direction, not just Ricciardo, to Brown’s point.

Even taking Ricciardo out of the equation, McLaren’s potential champion-in-waiting Lando Norris’ drop from four podiums and a pole in 2021 to just the one P3 finish in 2022, it already highlighted that the team needed to correct a backwards step, but the future remains bright.

Early signs suggest that Ricciardo’s replacement, F1 rookie Oscar Piastri, is a very strong acquisition for McLaren, while the team does appear to be heading in the right direction now after a nightmare start to F1 2023, both Norris and Piastri scoring points in Australia.

So, if this technical team makeover brings the desired effect, it seems that McLaren certainly have a strong enough driver pairing to represent them at the front of the grid.