Daniel Ricciardo is easily one of Formula 1’s biggest stars. But even his most die-hard fans would have to admit that his time at McLaren has been somewhat disappointing.
Despite returning to his race-winning ways in 2021 during his first season with McLaren with a spectacular win at the Italian Grand Prix, the 32-year-old Australian was largely outperformed by his younger teammate, Britain’s Lando Norris. Many critics chalked this down to Ricciardo’s struggle to wrap his head around last year’s MCL35M car, which was largely designed around Norris.
Yet Ricciardo seems to be struggling again in 2022. The massive regulations changes and radically different 2022 cars should have wiped the slate clean, but Ricciardo is still being out-driven by Norris.
We’re almost a third of the way into the 2022 season and Ricciardo is sitting at a dismal 11th in the championship with 11 points, with his only points-scoring finish of the year so far being 6th at his home race, the Australian Grand Prix. In comparison, Norris is 7th in the championship with 48 points.
After yet another disappointing race in Monaco (which saw Norris nab 6th and the fastest lap while Ricciardo came 13th), speculation around Ricciardo’s future with McLaren has reached fever pitch, with many pundits suggesting the affable Aussie might be on the chopping block – and now a former World Champion has further fanned the flames.
Jacques Villeneuve, who won the title in 1997 (the last championship win by a non-European driver plus the last Constructors’ and Drivers’ championships for Williams), has suggested in his column for Dutch magazine Formule1 that Ricciardo’s time at McLaren is over.
“[McLaren CEO] Zak Brown is now saying that there are clauses in his contract, and that means that a decision has almost been made. It’s a way to put the pressure on the driver and prepare the media.”
“Ultimately, he has been a highly-paid driver who has cost the team a lot of money. He doesn’t bring in any points and he doesn’t have the speed the team needs to develop the car. So he’s just costing them money.”Jacques Villeneuve
“It would be cheaper for them to continue paying Ricciardo’s salary, let him sit on the couch at home and put another driver in the car. It’s a harsh reality, but that’s Formula 1.”
It’s a grim assessment from a man who previously said he thought Ricciardo was better than his Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen…
Villeneuve isn’t the only former F1 great who’s expressed doubts about Ricciardo’s future. 6-time race winner Ralf Schumacher (brother of Michael Schumacher and uncle to Mick Schumacher) told Sky Germany “at McLaren, there are one or the other rumours. The rumours, as well as the statements in the team, are getting louder. He’s just too far away from his teammate.”
“I’m curious how the future looks for him. It will be quite difficult for him.”Ralf Schumacher
‘The Honey Badger’, who was previously considered World Champion material and was regularly on the podium during his time at Red Bull, has struggled to find his feet since leaving the top-flight team.
Ricciardo left Red Bull for Renault for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, where despite comprehensively outdriving teammates Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Ocon, only got on the podium twice (although that had a lot to do with how average Renault’s cars were).
His move to McLaren after only two years at Renault was rather hasty but also rather telling – but if McLaren gives him the flick, it’s not clear where he’d end up instead.
There are suggestions that Ricciardo’s former Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel will retire at the end of the year, opening up a seat at Aston Martin for the Aussie. There’s also talk that Williams will get rid of serial underperformer Nicholas Latifi, and Haas is also reportedly less than happy with Mick Schumacher.
But a move to any of those teams would represent a big downgrade for Ricciardo, who already had a big downgrade going from Red Bull to Renault and then McLaren. The fact of the matter is that the driver market is incredibly competitive, and it’s more likely that Ricciardo would just retire.
While that would be a big loss for the sport – Ricciardo is one of the most popular and charismatic drivers – it could open up a spot for other talented drivers waiting in the wings… Like 2021 Formula 2 World Champion Oscar Piastri, who found himself without a seat for 2022 and is incredibly deserving of one.
Swapping one Italian-Australian for another? Seems fitting.