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After the high of winning the Italian Grand Prix earlier this F1 season, it's been a decidedly muted second half of the season for Daniel Ricciardo - and McLaren have noticed.
Though he's dealt with his fair share of bad luck since his and the team's breakthrough victory at Monza, Ricciardo is under no illusions as to the team's expectations for the final two rounds.
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McLaren is locked in a tight battle with Ferrari for third place in the constructors championship, but some consistently strong results over the previous few rounds have handed the ascendency to the Italian manufacturer.
After struggling for the first half of the season to come to grips with the highly-strung McLaren, it was hoped Ricciardo's first race win since 2018 would spur the Aussie on to further heights.
In an interview for GP Racing, Ricciardo said he knew in no uncertain terms that he needed to 'pull your finger out' and get back to what he does best - fighting at the front of the grid.
But he also said the approach taken by McLaren to help him do so was crucial - and would be again with the final two rounds of the season fast approaching.
“The support of (race engineer Tom Stallard), and really the whole team, was good – they were very understanding and patient, for sure,” Ricciardo said.
“But yeah, there was also at times a kind of ‘pull your finger out’, and I’m big enough to take constructive criticism – there were no insults or beating me down, it was always trying to understand, ‘Okay, what’s the issue, and then how can we help you?’ That was a more modern approach to take and it’s served us well.”
Ricciardo currently sits eighth in the drivers standings, behind the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, and ahead of Alpha Tauri's Pierre Gasly.
McLaren are fourth in the constructors standings with 258 points, behind Ferrari who are on 297.5.
Ricciardo said the team had to help him on an almost corner-by-corner basis as he sought to close the gap to his teammate, Lando Norris, in qualifying.
From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo.
Find out how he did it in this @gpracingonline feature. #F1 https://t.co/bX9b4Jp1un
— Autosport (@autosport) November 26, 2021
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) November 23, 2021
“The natural picture in my head was that every lap I do in this car, I’d just get better,” Ricciardo explained.
“In Bahrain I qualified sixth and I knew I still wasn’t close to 100 per cent comfortable. So in my head I was like, ‘Well, each time I drive now I’ll just push the car more and more’.
“And then I, let’s say, hit an early plateau where the limit was a different limit to what I was used to. And to arrive at that limit, I needed to drive the car quite differently.
“The car has some really strong points but also some weak points, and I was just trying to navigate my way to the strong points. It didn’t always come natural for me.
“The key was trying to break it down and understand it corner by corner because, as a whole, there were times when I was seven or eight tenths away (from Norris) and I was like, ‘I can’t do that. I don’t know where that time is’."
F1 off-season is key for Ricciardo: Webber
As his 2021 Formula One campaign continues to limp to the finish line, Ricciardo is being urged to make the most of the off-season by retired racer Mark Webber.
Last weekend's Qatar Grand Prix ended in disappointment for the Australian, with an unexplained fuel problem resulting in a 12th-placed finish - his third straight race outside the points.
With two more races left in this year's championship, Webber says the Monza victory shows Ricciardo still has the ability to mix it with the best but needs to come back next year having resolved his issues with his car and team.
"The winter can't come soon enough for him to regroup and just work out for him how he's going to, with McLaren, just unlock a bit more performance for himself," nine-times F1 race winner Webber told AAP.
"You don't forget how to drive quickly overnight but for whatever reason he hasn't clicked at the moment.
"Daniel, when he does, we saw it, it's in there and when he does he's very, very special."
Webber firmly believed Ricciardo has plenty to offer F1 in terms of both driving ability and off-track personality, and there's no need for the relationship with McLaren to alter greatly heading into 2022.
"McLaren would struggle to have someone better for the brand. He's so good for the sport," Webber said.
"He had a problem (in Qatar) with the car which would sort of amplify his issues.
"In a technical sport, it's easy to get brought undone and people don't understand the full scenario of what's going on but by Daniel's incredibly high standards - this is a race winner, this is a guy that he's been in the middle step quite a few times and plenty of podiums - so he knows how to have success at that level.
"By his own admission, of course, it's been a challenging year for him in this car.
"Hopefully, he can finish the year with some strong results."
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