McLaren boss Zak Brown has admitted the Formula One team made one glaring mistake when it came to the contract of Daniel Ricciardo.
The F1 team announced on Wednesday that they had 'mutually agreed' to part ways with the 33-year-old Aussie driver, one year before his contract was due to expire.
Ricciardo is set to be given a staggering payout by McLaren worth a reported $24 million, after the Aussie turned down an offer to drive for the constructor in IndyCar.
He will finish up with the British-based F1 team at the end of the current season.
Speaking on the High Performance podcast after news of Ricciardo's impending exit was announced, Brown admitted that the huge payout owed to the Aussie for terminating his contract early was far from ideal.
The McLaren boss conceded that if they had their time again, the team would have inserted performance-related clauses into Ricciardo's contract, to avoid having to stump up so much money if race results didn't go their way.
“I think my one learning there would just be contractual, I don’t think there’s anything we could have done differently for him as a driver,” Brown said.
“I’m sitting here right now thinking I don’t think we could have done something differently to make him more competitive. We tried all that.
“We’ve had to end the relationship early. We’ve had to write a big cheque, which is fine because that’s the deal that we cut.
"I think what I’ll do next time is maybe have some more performance protections for us and not just assume that a great driver’s going to always be great. I think that’s the one learning as more a contractual one, but it’s a big one.”
Brown says he can't put his finger on where it went wrong for Ricciardo during his time with McLaren.
“We’ve tried changing cars and offering to change people. It’s been two seasons, two different cars. We thought year one, maybe it just didn’t gel with the car. Year two, it’s a totally different car," the McLaren boss said.
“But we got to the point where our only strategy was hope, and hope’s not a great strategy. So it’s a great mystery.
“We saw in Monza it’s in there. The guy did not win eight grands prix by accident, we just weren’t able to unlock it together. And Lando’s driving great and getting the car to perform.
“So I don’t think there’s anything we would have done differently, or could have seen, or should have known.”
Daniel Ricciardo determined to remain in F1
Barring a sensational victory at the Italian GP in 2021 with teammate Norris close behind, Ricciardo has largely been outperformed by his younger teammate after switching from Renault, now Alpine.
Ricciardo - who was on Thursday back on duty for his British team before the Belgian Grand Prix - confirmed that he could take a break from F1 if the right offer does not materialise.
"It's the only racing I'm interested in. At this stage of my career, F1 is what I love and it's where I see myself if I'm doing any racing.
"But let's say the stars don't align and it doesn't make perfect sense next year. If it means taking that time off to reset and re-evaluate, then if that's the right thing to do, I'm willing to."
Fans have been speculating which team Ricciardo could join for next season, with a vacant seat at Alpine a potentially smooth fit.
However, the Aussie has suggested that he's not interested in joining smaller teams such as Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo, if they're unable to offer him a legitimately competitive car.
“I never wanted to be a driver to just make up the numbers, if I’m here I want to be here for a purpose. So I don’t know what that means yet, for the future," Ricciardo said.
"But of course if it’s the right opportunity this is where I want to be.”
Aston Martin's Vettel, for one, believes Ricciardo is far from finished in F1.
Telling reporters he was sad to see the Australian lose his seat, Ricciardo's former Red Bull colleague said, "I had the pleasure to race against him and the not so pleasurable side of getting beaten by him years ago.
"I don't know the details, but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has.
"I'm sure that, ultimately, the talent he has and the qualities he has will shine through."
Ricciardo is in the strange position of having to race nine more grand prix for McLaren before they part ways, but he promised he'd try his best for a grand finale.
"I want to drive as competitively as possible," he said.
"There's no slacking off. It's just go out and have fun and try and get another Monza moment (to emulate his Italian grand prix win there last year)."
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