It would be an understatement to say Daniel Ricciardo’s start with McLaren has been disappointing so far.
A big understatement, in fact. Ricciardo is one of F1’s best overtakers, a winner of seven races since 2014 and a driver considered to be a title contender just waiting for a car to match. When he arrived at McLaren this year it was seen as sink or swim time for his new teammate, Lando Norris, alongside one of the most respected in the business.
The results on track have been the reverse of what most would have predicted. Ricciardo has looked fairly ordinary alongside Norris from the outside. After 10 races, Ricciardo is ninth in the championship with one top-five finish to his name. On the flip side, Norris is third, with three podium finishes and all but two races in the top five.
Norris’ incredible form has muddied this picture for Ricciardo somewhat. Results are a big part of the story in F1, but not the whole story. Aside from a crash in qualifying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Ricciardo has not made any huge mistakes with his new team. As the summer break grew closer, he felt he was cutting the gap to Norris — a gap most glaring during qualifying, often leaving Ricciardo with too much to do come race day — and that a big result was on the horizon. That opportunity presented itself at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Aug. 1 but Ricciardo was spun around in the first-corner chaos. Before being hit, it was Ricciardo, not eventual race winner Esteban Ocon, who looked likely to come out of Turn 1 behind Lewis Hamilton.
Ricciardo is clearly not letting the frustration get the better of him. He’s now passed the 10-year anniversary of his F1 debut and feels that experience has helped him navigate through the difficult start.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely trying… I want all the glory today,” Ricciardo joked in a recent interview with ESPN and selected other media when asked about his start with McLaren.
“But I guess the experience tells me that it’s definitely a process. With the age and wisdom and probably maturity comes some composure than say, when I was younger, expecting the world from everything and it wasn’t happening, then yeah, I probably would have thrown a few tantrums by now and lost it mentally, so to speak.
“So that’s where being here for a while now kinda helps take a breath, step back, go through it and understand that there’s a reason why things aren’t great right now. I need to find some answers as opposed to just throw my hands up and walk away from it all.”
Daniel Ricciardo (R) has not made any huge mistakes with his new team, but sits behind fellow McLaren driver Lando Norris in the championship. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Frustration was a recurring theme while talking to Ricciardo — or rather, how to stop frustration boiling over into something more damaging. The Australian driver said perspective about the nature of F1 has been important in not letting himself overthink his current situation.
“I would say it’s definitely been more challenging than previous experiences,” he said. “I think more challenging just because it has taken more time.
“I sit here today like still not there yet. Or not where I want to be. I think with experience and probably maturity and a bit of wisdom, it’s not always easy, but it’s like sometimes you do just need a little bit of patience and big picture stuff.
“I think if it was, ‘I expect it to come on day one’… it shouldn’t be that easy. No matter how good I think am, it shouldn’t be that easy!
“It’s just a bit of perspective. And yeah, I appreciate, there’s 20 of us doing it in the world.
“This is like, obviously a very high level that we’re trying to perform at. I think that as well, obviously I’m just trying to get used to it, and just not let frustration carry on into anything negative. Obviously like frustration can be there like an hour or two after a race, or a qualifying. But yeah, just moving on from that, and trying to be efficient and productive, and keep morale and everything pushing in the right way with the team.”
Before being spun out at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Ricciardo looked in a strong position. Lars Baron/Getty Images
Ricciardo is in a perfect environment to ride this current wave. McLaren was a cagey and awkward environment just a few years ago when it laboured through Formula One with its competitive Honda engine. The arrival of team boss Andreas Seidl, installed by CEO Zak Brown, has marked a clear change in both performance and mindset. The atmosphere now is markedly different.
Ricciardo said this calm approach suits his own outlook.
“I am not the guy to walk into the engineering room and throw a chair around,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to do well.
“I don’t think it will help me get a message across. And for the team to continue to support me, I need to show like faith in them and I need to support them through that as well. I think if I start just swearing, cursing and throwing my hands up then in my head I’m like OK, are they gonna start questioning me? Like, have I lost it?
“Am I just not paying attention anymore and just blaming everything? I’m definitely not one to point a lot of fingers but I try to do it productively and maybe just use my experience as well.
He added: “Everything within the team at the moment is I want to say near perfect. The only thing that’s really not there is the on track results yet, or at least consistently.
“But environment, morale, everything they’re trying to do to help me give me as much as I can, the debriefs, kind of all the homework we’re doing away from the track… I honestly can’t ask for more from what they’re trying to do to help me.”
The Formula One season continues with the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 29.
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