Ricciardo’s comment adds to inevitable doubts about McLaren 2023 – The Race

Daniel Ricciardo came into 2022 determined to put behind him the struggles of his disappointing first season at McLaren. But the first six races did not go as hoped, and a comment he made after finishing a disappointing 12th in the Spanish Grand Prix hinted at the possibility that his future with the team may not be as simple as it once seemed.

When asked if he was already in talks with McLaren about 2023, Ricciardo replied that he hadn’t yet, but said: “I’m sure we’ll meet before the summer, but we haven’t talked yet about when we will. to talk”.

But last February, Ricciardo confirmed he had a three-year contract with McLaren. “I have nothing to hide, it’s three years,” was what he said of what had previously been described as a “multi-year deal”.

When asked by The Race why such talks would be necessary, given that he said last year it was a three-year deal, Ricciardo struggled, unusually, for words.

“That’s true,” he said. “So you just made me answer something I don’t even have to answer!

“That’s true. So maybe I meant the summer of 2023?”

Ricciardo wisely declined to elaborate further when further questions were asked. And while it may have just been a driver who had just struggled for over an hour and a half in blistering conditions that spoke wrong, it could also reveal that his McLaren future isn’t set in stone.

But regardless of whether Ricciardo unknowingly hinted at something or was simply inaccurate with his answers to questions, McLaren is now at the point where it needs serious thought about its future with the team.

The hope was that a year of hard work deconstructing his driving style and improving his technical knowledge would mean Ricciardo was back at his best in 2022. Given the dramatic rule changes, the stage seemed set for a revival with Ricciardo, possibly even better than ever.

But it was a lot like 2021 insofar as he was the clear runner-up given Lando Norris’ advantage.

The numbers support that. Ricciardo is 39-11 in points scored, 5-1 in head-to-head qualifying and has only been ahead of his teammate once in the four races that have ended. And that, in Bahrain, was the result of Norris’ strategic gamble on a weekend when McLaren was way off the pace.

The Spanish Grand Prix weekend was the low point of Ricciardo’s season. While Ricciardo was the only McLaren driver to reach Q3, it was thanks to Norris cutting his last Q2 lap time. Before losing that lap due to an overrun of the track limits that gave little or no lap time advantage, Norris had been 0.310s faster.

Daniel Ricciardo Lando Norris McLaren F1

The underlying pace difference has been there all season in qualifying, to the point where that three-tenths is actually the third-largest gap between the two from Ricciardo’s perspective. Considering Norris suffered from a visibly debilitating attack of tonsilitis, it was another disappointing qualifying for his teammate.

But the race was a whole different level of disappointment, Ricciardo finished 12th with his race pace nowhere near Norris. They executed similar strategies, with three stints on soft tires and one on mediums – albeit with Ricciardo using his mediums in the second stint and Norris in the third – but the average lap time difference (eliminating outliers) was over eight tenths of a second.

That’s out of proportion to the pace difference Friday and Saturday seemed to mark between the pair. Ricciardo himself was stunned by the fact that he was “working at a lower grip level than everyone else” and hoped a problem would be discovered to explain it.

McLaren is still investigating and given the major struggles Ricciardo had in the race it would be a surprise if no problem was discovered. While Ricciardo said there were “little bits here and there” in terms of differences between his and Norris’ lineups, that couldn’t explain such a big gap.

“I was hoping to find something else, like an ‘oh wow, this was wrong’ or ‘this was something’. If there is a set up [differences] you could say there are a few tenths, but I was just really slow.

“This felt more than a set-up, so hopefully there is something there as I now have enough experience to try different things during the race.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Spanish GP

“I was trying to push the tyres, trying to be conservative, approaching the corners [in] in different ways, but the net lap time at the end was the same every time I crossed the line, whether I had used the tires or not.

“So one of those things where you just scratch your head.”

But even if McLaren finds a reason for Ricciardo’s struggles, that won’t change the overall pattern. A driver who has signed a lucrative contract has simply not produced the level of performance expected by McLaren, the watching world or Ricciardo’s own illustrious history in F1.

His troubles from last year were well documented, with the style he’d honed in previous years in F1, not gelling with a car that didn’t offer him the turn-in characteristics he needed. He worked hard to reprogram his style, with some success, but never to the point where he recaptured his old form. The first six races of this year have matched the pattern of the second half of last year.

While the cars fundamental change offered the tantalizing prospect of a reset, the inherent features aren’t necessarily beneficial to Ricciardo. Since front-end load is tricky to produce for slower corners, the change may not have been timed properly.

Ricciardo admits: “I want to do more perfect laps and there are still not enough”. The impression is of a driver who can’t find a way back to his old heights and, while it’s always risky to guess what’s going on in someone else’s head, might even wonder if he can.

“I’ve certainly put in enough miles now, so I don’t think it’s necessarily more laps,” said Ricciardo when asked by The Race about his struggles.

“It probably just dives in, maybe a little deeper. But on some tracks it feels a bit natural or at home and on others I sometimes seem to struggle a bit more. So I’m still trying to figure it out sometimes.

“To be continued…”

Ricciardo continues that process this weekend in Monaco, the place where he reached his lowest point in 2021. Then he “refused to accept” that he was so far behind Norris’ pace, but later accepted that he had some serious work to do on his driving.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

No one can blame Ricciardo’s hard work to change things up at McLaren, but at the moment the signs of progress are patchy at best.

With drivers like Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward on the radar and possible alternatives elsewhere in F1, McLaren must consider whether it is time to cut losses at Ricciardo before 2023. As McLaren CEO Zak Brown admitted this week, Ricciardo has not lived up to expectations.

“Lando is definitely ahead,” Brown told Sky Sports F1. “Of course we would like to see Daniel much closer to Lando and have a good fight within the team.

“Daniel is just not comfortable with the car yet. We are doing everything we can and again it was a disappointing weekend.

“After Monza and a few races it has generally not met his or our expectations as far as we expect.

“All you can do as a team is keep working hard, keep communication going, keep pushing and hope that what doesn’t click right now will click here soon.”

As for Ricciardo himself, he will turn 33 in July and could have many more years ahead of him as an F1 driver. Given his achievements have thrilled F1 for many years and he has achieved great things with eight wins and two seasons – 2014 and ’16 – where you can strongly demonstrate that he was the best F1 driver of the season, the hope is’ peak Ricciardo’ is still somewhere waiting to get back to his best.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

Certainly Grand Prix racing would be all the better for that as he is capable of being a great driver and an excellent ambassador for F1. The hope is that it will click and that the popular Ricciardo has five years or more ahead of him as a driver at his best.

But the question is whether he has what it takes to turn things around in terms of both the ability to do it and the determination to do it, and McLaren’s willingness to persevere.

If one or both of these things are missing, it could be that when it comes time to talk about the future, it will be about the team and driver going in different directions in 2022.


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