No one likes losing, even less so a Formula One driver. So right now, it is not an easy time for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian driver – who has 31 podiums and 7 wins under his belt – loves a challenge. This is partly why he left Red Bull for Renault, and after two years driving for the French team decided to join McLaren: his next step he has to conquer. “In a way, I got out of Red Bull because I had a fear of becoming complacent,” he explained.
With his experience, many were expecting Ricciardo to face a tough challenge from his young talented teammate Norris, but ultimately he’d come out on top. As far as this season goes, expectations are not being fulfilled.
After the first six races of the season, the Honey Badger has never crossed the checkered flag higher than sixth, while teammate Lando Norris already got two podium finishes and is the only driver to have scored in every race this year.
Moreover, despite scoring in five of the six Grand Prix, the Australian has accumulated a meagre total of 26 points, 40 point less than his partner. These results are not too bad, but they become a hard pill to swallow compared to Norris, who seems to have found a great pace and began to push himself to another level, free from Carlos Sainz’s shadow.
Despite the beginning of the 2021 campaign not going to plan, Daniel Ricciardo says he's looking forward to the first triple-header of the season – beginning in France before two Grands Prix in Austria – which he says will "fast-track" his progress at McLaren.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a true rollercoaster for the 31-year-old driver, who finished ninth from P13 on the grid. Unlike Red Bull and Aston Martin’s new recruits Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel, the Australian is still very much struggling to find pace and be competitive on the track.
When he joined the team, he knew it would take time to settle in, but truth be told, he didn’t anticipate it would take this long.
“When I first drove the car, I said to myself ‘OK, it’s a different one’,” Ricciardo concedes.
“But I wasn’t discouraged by that. I just said to myself ‘I’ll have to figure it out. The more laps I do, it’ll just come’.
“The car is different enough, you need to work a little harder at it, it hasn’t so far come just by circulating and doing laps. I’ve had to adapt a few things with my driving style to help the car. I’m still trying to get on top of that.
Covid has made life significantly harder for Ricciardo – and others who have changed teams. He, like Vettel, did not get a chance to drive an old-spec McLaren before he made his debut. That meant his first experience of a McLaren challenger was at the shakedown, which offers minimal – if any – learning for a driver given it’s on demonstration tyres and limited to 100km.
“Chatting with other drivers [about the new floor rules and the way these tyres operate], it is a bit challenging for everyone and maybe that is amplified because of my switch in team and also the uniqueness of this car,” says Ricciardo.
“[The lack of time I’d spent in the car relative to what he would have had in previous years] was brought up in Monaco within the team, and there was a bit of realisation that OK, mileage-wise – and Fridays are shorter – we may be in race six but in a previous season maybe that’s only race two or three.
“At the time, I’m thinking ‘you’re just trying to make me feel good’ – but it’s fact. Obviously, you want the result today, but I’m not getting too carried away and ultimately, we’re not in a championship season this year, so what is there to lose? Maybe a fifth place, maybe an eighth. I’d rather get everything in order and if next year is a season for us to fight for a title, then I want to be tip top for then.”
The Honey Badger expects that the upcoming three races in a row will help him get to grips with the MCL35M and "fast-track" his progress.
"When you're trying to learn any sport, the best way to learn is practice and doing it and that’s the unique thing with our sport, we can't do it every day, we can't just go out tomorrow and go and run a few laps, so I think having three consecutive weekends and putting in the practice consecutively will fast-track my progress”, he explained.
The Australian further explained how street circuits like Monaco and Baku can be tricky, especially when you’re still trying to explore the limits of the car.
"It's a street circuit, if you're going to push to the limit, then there's already a risk of things happening," he said.
"And then if I'm still trying to probably find where exactly the limit is, then the likelihood is obviously that bit higher”.
On the other hand, more traditional and open circuits are “more forgiving of mistakes”, this is why Ricciardo is so looking forward to the next races.
“I think that'll probably fast track my learning in a triple-header just to keep some rhythm”, he concluded.
"I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm kind of excited to go to Le Castellet, and just get obviously a fairly, I would say, basic track to maybe get away with a few more mistakes on.
"The kind of familiarity of that, and then I guess a doubleheader in Austria will hopefully make this kind of learning phase a bit easier. But it is what it is. It's obviously on a knife-edge, and I'm just trying to get the most out of it."