Daniel Ricciardo says though the writing was on the wall that his seat with McLaren was at risk this year, he was nevertheless taken aback when push came to shove and his deal was terminated.
The Australian driver had signed with McLaren for three years starting from the 2021 season, however two years of underwhelming results led to Ricciardo agreeing to terminate the deal with one year remaining.
Ricciardo qualified 11th for the Mexican GP this weekend, breaking a five-race streak of being eliminated in Q3 to push his car closer to the front of the field.
He was still out-qualified by teammate Lando Norris in Mexico, but it was a crucial step forward for Ricciardo, who admitted during the week that his battle to come to grips with the tricky car had become as much of a psychological battle as it was a technical challenge.
With his absence from the F1 grid next year confirmed with Ricciardo having little interest in racing for backmarkers Williams or Haas, the 33-year-old has been linked to reserve driver roles with Red Bull and Mercedes.
Ricciardo is aiming to re-join the F1 grid in 2024 - however it remains to be seen whether any opportunities will emerge in 12 months' time.
“My confidence was being eaten away driving a car that wouldn’t dance with me and would bite back,” Ricciardo said.
“Whenever we thought we found a solution, along would come another set of challenges. When you put so much into something and it doesn’t work out, there is sadness. It gets to you.
“Last year it affected me a little bit too much. I wouldn’t be my usual bubbly self.
"I would be reluctant if someone said let’s go out for dinner. I would need some cajoling. I let it get to me.
“I started to speak to a psychologist last year, the most challenging year I have had.”
Max Verstappen claims pole position for Mexico Grand Prix
While Ricciardo's struggles in qualifying improved somewhat, newly crowned back-to-back F1 champion Max Verstappen showed he wasn't going to let up after sealing the title at the United States GP last weekend.
Meanwhile, in the first practice session of the weekend, Jack Doohan made his F1 debut behind the wheel of one of the Alpine cars.
Former world motorcycling champ Mick Doohan recalled all the days he'd take his boy to go-kart meetings around Australia, so reckoned it was an emotional day to watch 19-year-old Jack now making his bow in the world's greatest motor sport circus at the Mexico Grand Prix.
Invited into the Alpine garage at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to watch Jack in his first F1 practice session on Friday, Mick liked what he saw of the teenager's debut before technical issues with the car's power unit prompted the team to cut his session short after 13 laps.
"It's an important moment, what all these young drivers aim to do, so as a father, to see him there - I've been at every go kart track along the way - it's a magnificent moment," smiled Mick, the 57-year-old Queenslander who won five world 500cc titles, in an interview with Sky Sports.
Asked if he had butterflies watching Jack in action, he admitted: "Totally - you're not in control of what's going on when you're just watching, but I cherish the moment.
"And the plan is that, one day, we'll be there every weekend (at F1)."
Friday's session was one set aside by F1 to give teams the chance to blood up-and-coming talents.
Mick was impressed by Jack's first few laps before Alpine pulled the plug, concerned about issues in the car that Esteban Ocon will race.
"I think he did a great job," said Mick, after Jack finished 19th of the 20 starters in the session, recording a best lap of 1min 24.615 sec, nearly four seconds down on pacesetter Carlos Sainz's quickest circuit in his Ferrari.
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