Much has been said about Formula 1 star Daniel Ricciardo’s recent slump in performance… But his new team, McLaren, must shoulder some (if not most) of the blame – and they’ve admitted as such.
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. This trend has largely continued into 2022, with Norris still consistently outperforming Ricciardo.
This has led many commentators to stick a fork in Ricciardo and say he’s done, including 1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill and 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. The British press in particular has been pretty brutal – not surprising, as they consistently boost British drivers while denigrating others.
There’s no doubt that Ricciardo isn’t firing on all cylinders. But something the rest of the press hasn’t really recognised is how much McLaren is to blame for Ricciardo’s struggles, especially now in 2022.
McLaren is notorious for creating difficult cars to drive and Ricciardo really struggled with the 2021 car, which was totally at odds with his driving style. The 2022 car has the same issues.
“Ricciardo’s problem is that he likes to carry speed into the corner by braking a little earlier (except when making one of his trademark overtaking moves) and rolling the speed into the corner,” The Race explains.
“The McLaren [had] a front-end weakness that is mitigated by braking later, but then appears to still require a relatively progressive application of steering lock. Ricciardo has struggled to do this, often braking earlier than Norris and ending up with the car under-rotated, meaning he is still traction limited for longer in the exit phase than Norris simply because he’s effectively extending the corner.”
They also point out that while the car was at odds with Ricciardo’s driving style, it perfectly suited Norris’ default style. Norris has also been with McLaren since 2019; it’s the only F1 team he’s ever driven with – meaning there’s not been as much of a learning curve for the young Pom.
Many of the 2021 car’s characteristics have been carried over to the 2022 car, and to make matters worse, Norris has continued to have far more influence on the car’s development than Ricciardo, although not necessarily by any design on McLaren’s part.
Ricciardo missed the final day of the 2022 pre-season test in Bahrain because he got COVID, and although he superficially seemed to bounce back from The Spicy Cough, it’s hard to know how much it’s affected his performance. On top of that, because he missed out on testing, Norris had more input into the car’s development, meaning it’s continued to move in a direction that favours his driving style and not Ricciardo’s.
To make matters worse, the 2022 car suffers from reliability and performance issues that are affecting both drivers, with McLaren boss Andreas Seidl admitting to Autosport that his team needs to shoulder some of the responsibility for Ricciardo’s ongoing struggles.
“Daniel is very critical about himself as well, which is good, but in the end, we have to do a better job as a team. We need to give him a more reliable car… We need in general to get the car performance more up, and then I’m sure both drivers are in a position to score the results,” Seidl says.
It’s not Norris’ fault that his team has designed the car around him. It’s also important to recognise that Norris is also an exceptionally talented driver and Ricciardo was always going to face fierce competition from him – even if, in my opinion at least, he’s a bit overrated. Remember that Norris has never won a Grand Prix; Ricciardo has won 8.
It’s also not McLaren’s fault per se that their 2022 car is having teething issues. The radically different 2022 regulations have been a struggle for all teams to wrap their heads around and McLaren is no exception.
In particular, Mercedes’ 2022 power unit isn’t as competitive as Ferrari or Red Bull’s, hampering McLaren’s performance. Last year, it was clear that the Mercedes power unit was one of if not the best available, and even Mercedes themselves have been shocked by how comparatively uncompetitive their package is in 2022.
But none of this changes the fact that McLaren, either intentionally, unintentionally or carelessly, is doing Ricciardo dirty. He’s been set up for failure on multiple fronts.
McLaren needs to radically change how they operate, lest they end up becoming like Red Bull: a team that simply gravitates around Max Verstappen, both from a performance as well as management perspective to the detriment of everyone and everything else. It only works because Verstappen is a prodigious talent.
McLaren’s culture doesn’t seem as toxic as Red Bull’s – probably why Ricciardo was happy to join them – but they need to get their act together. They can’t just be Team Lando…