When he climbed to the top step of Monza’s famous podium in 2021 having just given McLaren their first victory in nine years, how many would believe that 436 days later Daniel Ricciardo would be off the Formula 1 grid entirely?Carlos Sainz Jnr, who had served McLaren well during his two years with the team. A multiple race winner coming off a strong second season with Renault, Ricciardo was the perfect veteran to pair with young Lando Norris.
But 2021 was nothing like Ricciardo or his team expected. He was hammered by Norris over the year, only managing to salvage some face with his brilliant, out-of-nowhere Monza win. At least he could reset over the off-season and head into a new season in 2022 with a completely new car and a new mentality.
It did not get any better. In fact, by his own admission, Ricciardo’s performance during 2022 left him with the sobering realisation that 2021 may not have been that bad by comparison – especially as he ended the season with an even greater chasm between himself and Norris in the championship standings.
It wasn’t an easy start to the new era of F1 for Ricciardo or McLaren as a team. Covid-19 ended his pre-season early and he headed into the first race weekend in Bahrain with a car that had a low chance of scoring points and a high chance of cooking its brakes. But a rapid turnaround by the team gave Ricciardo the opportunity to put on a show for his home fans in Melbourne, finishing sixth behind Norris after respecting team orders not to challenge him over the final laps.
Then, Imola was the first black mark of the season. While Norris navigated through a tricky race in the wet to take what would be the only podium finish of the year for any midfield team, Ricciardo’s race had been ruined at the first corner. While the stewards elected not to investigate his race-ending clash with Sainz, Ricciardo felt the need to apologise for the turn one collision that effectively ended both their afternoons.
Ricciardo’s season was again being defined by how he was simply unable to match his team mate. Norris fell ill with tonsillitis at Barcelona, but still battled through to score four points in eighth while Ricciardo crossed the line in 12th, 45 seconds behind. He wrecked his car into the Swimming Pool barriers during Friday practice at Monaco, then finished 13th in the race while Norris was ‘best of the rest’ in sixth.
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Baku provided a rare boost for Ricciardo as he finished ahead of Norris in eighth – with the benefit of team orders earning him payment from Melbourne – but the concern at Woking was only growing. As the team packed up their things after the British Grand Prix, Norris held an advantage of 43 points over Ricciardo in the championship. After the race, Seidl and Brown made the bold call to sign Alpine junior Oscar Piastri to replace Ricciardo for 2023 and seek way of ending their contract with Ricciardo a full season early as their most recent winner had apparently exhausted the patience of the team’s management.
McLaren’s respect for Ricciardo as a member of the team is unquestionable. Team principal Andreas Seidl could not have been clearer about how much they appreciated Ricciardo’s character, team spirit and work ethic during their final months together. But McLaren is an F1 team, not a social club, and Ricciardo’s lack of performance for a second successive year was simply unacceptable.
Sadly for Ricciardo, the rest of his season offered little to suggest McLaren had made a mistake by dropping him. A particularly poor run of races either side of the summer break left him looking as lost as he had ever been. He put in a respectable performance at Monza but easily his best work of the season came in Singapore. Lacking the upgrades of his team mate, he started 16th on the grid and rose up to fifth – his best result of 2022.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking race of all was the United States Grand Prix. No driver has embraced F1’s lust for Americana quite like Ricciardo, rocking up to the paddock on a horse and sporting a Texas Longhorns jersey during the drivers’ parade. But after qualifying nine places behind Norris in 17th, his race pace evaporated under the Austin sun, crossing the line a dismal 16th – 10 places behind his team mate.
His final races with McLaren were a frustrating mix of Ricciardo at his best and worst. When McLaren gave him the ideal strategy in Mexico, he wasted no time making it work, getting to enjoy attacking rivals on soft tyres. Then he clumsily clattered into Yuki Tsunoda and earned a 10-second penalty that threatened to undo his hard work, but by the chequered flag he’d managed to negate all the time he’d lost to keep a well-earned seventh.
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Interlagos was never going to be McLaren’s best venue, but for the second Sunday in succession he bumped into a rival in a slow right hander, pitching Kevin Magnussen into a spin and causing the crash that ended his race on the opening lap.
Heading into Abu Dhabi, Ricciardo knew he would be absent from the grid for at least the next season – possibly for good. At least if he never races a grand prix again, he can hold his head high having held off former team mate and fellow Red Bull product Sebastian Vettel over the final laps of the race to end his time at McLaren with a solid points finish.
Ricciardo is convinced F1 has not seen the last of him yet. At the age of 33, he has not yet reached his use-by date as a racing driver. However, if any team does decide to give him another chance at a race seat in the future, it will be despite his performance in 2022, not because of it.
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