Daniel Ricciardo has opened up about the agonising two-year struggle to understand why he was so slow with McLaren, admitting it 'exposed my weaknesses'. The 33-year-old is taking a break from F1 next season, joining Red Bull as a reserve driver and targeting a return to the grid in 2024.
In what was his first extended interview since the end of the 2022 season and his subsequent departure from McLaren, Ricciardo said the past two seasons had been draining as he and the team attempted to get to the bottom of his lack of pace.
The 11-year F1 veteran said his it was hard to identify solid progress between his first McLaren outing in the 2021 Bahrain GP, and one of his most recent strong performance, in Mexico earlier this year.
Baffled by frequently being as much as a second off the pace of star teammate Lando Norris, Ricciardo believes the desperate search for answer ultimately might have been more of a hindrance than a help.
His debut with McLaren saw him turn in a smooth drive in Bahrain to bank a seventh-place points finish, three places behind Norris in fourth. Unfortunately for the Aussie star, it was largely downhill from there.
His unexpected victory at the 2021 Italian GP proved to be something of a false dawn for Ricciardo despite his impressive finish to the season, however 2022 proved to be an even more mentally challenging task.
With the entire field coming to grips with new aero rules implemented for this season, Ricciardo struggled more than ever to feel connected to the car - with his best results seemingly occurring at random, such as in Mexico.
“I look back at Mexico, and it’s funny — I enjoyed having pace and feeling like normal again, but part of me was also frustrated because I was like, ‘Where’s this been?’,” he told the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“The car’s got grip. I’m able to just effortlessly point it where I want to — I mean, maybe not in the side of Yuki (Tsunoda), but for the most part I could point it where I wanted — and it was back to that place of me just feeling light and it was kind of effortless.
“As much as I loved it, I was also a bit frustrated, because I was like, ‘What’s changed? Why now?’ It’s just that the car decided to come alive.”
Daniel Ricciardo opens up about F1 struggles with McLaren
After making his F1 debut in 2011 with minnows HRT, Ricciardo had graduated to a Red Bull seat in 2014, where he broke through for his first race win and outperformed four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Making a name for himself as a daring overtaking driver with a penchant for braking as late as possible, Ricciardo left Red Bull in 2019, joining Renault for two seasons before a highly-anticipated move to McLaren from 2021.
That move has failed to deliver on the massive hype, leaving Ricciardo left to ponder exactly what went wrong for him along the way.
Ricciardo admitted that his confidence had been well and truly shaken by the end of that first season with the Woking-based team in 2021.
“I think already last year during the summer break it occurred to me that I was driving very consciously, and it just wasn’t natural anymore and I was just one step behind,” he said.
“That was where I was like, okay, I think we’re just trying to do too much.
“You only have a certain amount of energy as well — mental energy, physical, whatever. So if you’re using up a bit more mental energy maybe and trying to analyse too much, by the time you’re actually getting into the car you’re already probably a little bit fried. It kind of has a double effect, in a way.
“Did we just overanalyse our bad weekends and then just get caught up in a way where it was like, ‘Okay, we need to start driving like this or setting the car up like that’? For sure at some point we would have got a little too deep and little to lost.
“If we didn’t dive that deep, would I have killed it? I still don’t believe I would’ve killed it in this car. It certainly exposed some of my weaknesses for sure, I have to accept that. But I feel like we probably underperformed just through burying ourselves too deep in it all at times.”
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