Luke Smith

The reasons behind Ricciardo’s Formula 1 struggles for McLaren

While his sensational win at Monza, McLaren’s first for almost nine years, was a reminder of his undeniable talent, it will go down as an outlier of his spell at Woking, barring any heroic clashes in the second half of the season. .

Few people thought things would end like this. Ricciardo’s arrival for 2021 was seen as a coup for McLaren, driving the Australian away from Enstone – an act he is now set to repeat with Oscar Piastri. Ricciardo’s struggles over the past season have been attributed to acclimatization to a new motoring philosophy, which was gradually ironed out and led to his victory at Monza. Surely he was cured for season two with McLaren.

And yet the struggles not only continued, but deepened. After 13 races in 2021, Ricciardo had 56 points on the board and nine points. His goal this year? Only 19 points in five races, including three for sixth place in the Imola sprint.

So why has Ricciardo struggled so much with McLaren’s Formula 1 cars over the past two years?

The important thing to keep in mind is that while the 2022 regulations may have heralded a technical overhaul for F1, they have not removed many of the features from the McLaren car that have made it so difficult to drive. ‘last year. The MCL36, much like the MCL35M, excels at high-speed cornering but struggles more when it comes to the mid-speed stuff.

At the end of last year, McLaren technical director James Key spoke of a desire to attack weaknesses and “report them with a clean sheet of paper”, ensuring he never there was “no legacy behavior in a new car like this”. But Ricciardo ended up having the same difficulties with the new car.

“The regulations make the car different, but the DNA of the car is still very similar,” Ricciardo told in an interview ahead of F1’s summer break, before plans for his replacement by Piastri were announced. set in motion.

“Some of the things from last year that I struggled with, are still in that car. I think it’s something that we’re starting to understand better what it’s about. Because obviously I tried to describe it, but to really understand, is it aero, is it geometry, like… you know what I mean? what it’s about, and Lando complains about it too. I think he’s just used to it.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Norris will throw up his hands and admit he’s in a similar boat with the quirks of this year’s McLaren car. “The car I have now is absolutely not what I want for my driving style and really doesn’t suit me,” he told in an interview over the weekend. end in Hungary. “It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that it is, and you have to adapt to it.

“That’s why I feel like I’ve done a reasonable job this year, adjusting to something that’s not quite what I want or like.” He added with a laugh that it “blew my mind” to have managed to finish on the podium at Imola, given the limitations of the car.

It underlines the difference between Norris and Ricciardo this year. While Norris was able to tweak and circumvent the features of the MCL36, Ricciardo struggled to do so in the same way. He was always a driver who thrived on having complete confidence in the car, which allowed him to be aggressive and throw it around. The McLarens of the past two years haven’t given him the chance to do that.

Ricciardo said that new problems have arisen with the car this year which have been further setbacks. “Some of the, let’s call it struggles or struggles, are a carryover — and then there might be a few new things where you’re like, fuck, OK!” says Ricardo. “It kind of comes down to the feel. It’s probably still hard to get a read, I guess, and really build consistency into a race sometimes. My lap time variation can be quite large, and that’s normally unusual.

“These kind of highlights where I’m going to get caught or something, I’m like, ‘oh shit, I didn’t expect the car to do that in that corner.’ It’s still a little hard to read, I guess, on a simple term.

While Norris has been more consistent in the runs, Ricciardo has tended to slow down more due to those dips in pace. Ricciardo also found it more difficult to understand why the car reacts the way it sometimes does: “That’s where it can generate frustration, like ‘why did I lock then? I didn’t do anything to cause this, so why the hell did this happen! Just stuff like that.

Norris’ adjustment to Ricciardo has been a big part of explaining the discrepancies between them at times this year. But that didn’t shake Ricciardo’s confidence or lead to doubts about his abilities.

“Some days when it’s eight-tenths less…I don’t think that’s possible, you know?” he said. “Because even you look through the grid, even the best driver on the grid, whoever you say, whoever it is, they’re not eight tenths better than second best. Like, that’s a big gap.

“There are still a lot of things that I’m trying to learn with the car and to understand, it’s not always easy to understand, but I feel that we are getting closer.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

And there was always that confidence from Ricciardo, things would be fine. A repeat of his victory at Monza may be overstated, but he was never shy about saying a breakthrough was not far away. “We obviously tried a lot of things,” he said. “I think this year we’ve understood more and some of that understanding is definitely carried over from last year. I’m still not setting the world on fire, but I’m not saying a win will arrive in a week, but I have a feeling it’s going to happen.

“That’s definitely what motivates me. I can also see with what the team around me is doing, like, they believe in it. They don’t just tell me things I want to hear. There is a method to madness, if you will.

But the breakthrough Ricciardo needed didn’t come quickly enough. Even though McLaren could say he was determined to bring him up to speed, his patience grew too thin. Piastri’s surprise availability became an opportunity the team felt too good to pass up, even at the expense of an established winner like Ricciardo.

That’s the takeaway from all of this. Ricciardo is an established winner. His eight F1 victories came in cars that weren’t the fastest on the grid, proving his ability to extract performance from his machinery. Sometimes, however, the driver/car combination doesn’t gel well – and that’s exactly it. It’s not entirely on him that this partnership didn’t work out.

Wherever Ricciardo ends up next, the goal will be to rediscover his mojo and, to some degree, rebuild his reputation. A car he can click with will be key to making that happen quickly.

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Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, celebrates on the podium

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, celebrates on the podium

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The reasons behind Ricciardo’s Formula 1 struggles for McLaren

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