Daniel Ricciardo says he has at least five more years of F1 racing in him, despite speculation about his future after a difficult month with no points.
Ricciardo has long been reclassified as one of the most talented racers in the sport, but his latest team change has set him free in a McLaren that does nothing for his signature aggressive driving style.
The first half of his 2021 season was undoubtedly poor as he struggled with a task far greater than he could have imagined getting to grips with the idiosyncratic MCL35M, but by the second half of the season he had reached a respectable level of found shape.
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As described earlier in the year by Fox Sportsafter the mid-season break, his qualifying deficit on Norris improved significantly to less than two starting places, beating his teammate 65-47.
And while the start of this season wasn’t flawless, it wasn’t terrible until the Spanish Grand Prix either.
Had he not taken a technical retirement in Saudi Arabia while leading his teammate and then clumsily crashed into the rain on the first lap at Imola, he would probably have only half his 37-point lead over his Norris – and most of that reduced margin would have come from the last two races only.
It is doubtless why when? asked about its shelf life by RacingNews365the eight-time Grand Prix winner reacted defiantly.
“The more people ask me” [about retirement]I’m like, ‘F*** that, I want to stay longer!’,” he said during the Spanish Grand Prix.
“What is my best before date? I still think I have quite a few years left competitively.
“It’s also relative to competitiveness [and] wish.
“I think I still have the desire in me for a good handful of years, results aside.”
But desire doesn’t always translate into results.
Ricciardo didn’t forget how fast he had to drive on the night he left Renault for McLaren, but there’s no question that his form at papaya largely fell short of expectations – as both he and McLaren CEO Zak Brown recently admitted:†
Part of that is undoubtedly that the car has not lived up to its promise or the improvement trajectory of recent yearsespecially this season, but as the motorsport adage goes, you are only as good as your last race.
Combined with the fact that he is about to turn 33 years old in a sport that is rapidly evolving into the next generation of stars, he really needs to make the last 18 months of his McLaren contract work if he aims for another three or four years afterwards.
“Yes, I’ve done enough F1 now that people know I’m a capable driver and so on,” he said. “But people also forget that there is no guarantee that in two years everyone will say: ‘We want to sign you’.
“There aren’t 10 contracts under your door, so it’s in my hands too, and not just my desire, but of course my competitiveness.
“I am aware that I have moved a bit in recent years, so stability within a team sounds most desirable to me. Things are coming up at McLaren too [such as the] wind tunnel [and] new simulator, which I know will benefit the team.
“I want to use the word ‘huge’ but I don’t know the scale, but it will certainly benefit the team to some extent. I definitely want to be a part of that too, so I don’t think about being anywhere else.”
And despite Norris’s rising star – there is little mention of the Briton’s immense net worth, regardless of his team-mate’s struggles with the car – Ricciardo still has one goal in mind.
“The most important thing now is a world title, for sure”, he told RacingNews365† “A victory [for McLaren] is great, but it’s not enough. So there are unfinished business in the sense of I want to get more [for the team]but there are still unfinished business in the sport.
“To come back to the retirement talk, while I still believe I can have what it takes to become a world champion, I’m staying in the sport because I’m not satisfied with eight wins. I am proud, but I am not satisfied.”
But it is still a long way from where Ricciardo is now to the world title. Putting the car’s competitiveness aside, both he and team principal Andreas Seidl say he still isn’t quite comfortable with some transfers the way the machine wants to be pushed.
Furthermore, as he spoke of resetting and rebounding after the disappointments of Spain and Monaco, as he watched the press after finishing outside the points again in Monte Carlo – on streets he previously dominated – there is little doubt that his confidence is a hit , even if only temporarily.
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After qualifying, he said he was confused about his lack of pace, which is never a morally boosting comment.
But when asked whether he can recover from his last trough – albeit in Spain, before the worst results came in – Ricciardo was unequivocal.
“It is [in my nature],” he said.
“Last year was such a good kind of memory for me that I can do it because last year I think was the biggest challenge so I’ve now gone through it and come out with the Monza win.
“So I feel like all I can do now, and I can come out anywhere. I also think if I’m back in those struggles, I’ll have methods to pull myself out of it faster because I’ve learned from being low.”
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