Daniel Ricciardo future at McLaren; Struggles at the Spanish Grand Prix; Lando Norris, news, Monaco Grand Prix
There was confusion everywhere after last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, where Daniel Ricciardo desperately ran through four sets of tires in search of more grip.
He found none, powerless to stop his slide from ninth on the grid to 12th as his career at McLaren took another disappointing turn.
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To make matters worse, teammate Lando Norris went the other way, dropping from 11th to eighth despite an illness.
If you’ve been feeling a bit bewildered this week, wondering how and why apparently one of the most talented drivers on the grid still isn’t up to speed at McLaren, you’re not alone.
“It’s a headache,” 1996 world champion Damon Hill told Sky Sports. “If you’re driving and you’re overtaken, that’s a problem, that’s a headache.
“You start thinking, ‘Maybe this is just a fact of life that I’m going to have to live with. I’m not as fast as my teammate and how are you doing.
McLaren boss Zak Brown, meanwhile, couldn’t buy more time for his Australian rookie and told him how it was.
“Lando definitely has an advantage,” he said. “Obviously we would like to see Daniel a lot closer to Lando and have a good inter-squad battle.
“Daniel is not comfortable with the car yet.”
Speaking of Ricciardo’s recruitment, he added: “Short of Monza and a few races, it didn’t meet his expectations or our expectations.
For his part, Ricciardo said he hoped something was wrong with his car or he was unable to explain why he couldn’t find grip.
“It’s one of those races where it was so slow that you kind of – it almost sounds bad to say – but you hope something was wrong,” Ricciardo said. “You’re hoping we find something like ‘oh, that’s why,’ because probably more ominous if we don’t.
“It wasn’t like a tenth or two tenths (of a second) behind. Sometimes it felt like more than a second.
Nothing has yet been revealed at the McLaren factory.
In fact, McLaren congratulated themselves for introducing a major upgrade package which went according to plan.
McLaren has rolled out several new parts, including upgrades to the floor, sidepods, diffuser and brake duct, as well as circuit-specific front and rear fenders.
Everything worked out well for Norris, while technical director James Key said: “It correlates with everything we expected.
“I think from what the CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and the wind tunnel told us, it came out on track, which is always good to see.”
If everything did indeed go as planned, then McLaren and Ricciardo are worlds apart.
Its latest dip after the introduction of a major upgrade package might just be a complete coincidence, but the timing is hard to ignore.
The Spanish Grand Prix has been a rare positive for Ricciardo in the first half of 2021, the fact that it is a pre-season testing venue is no small factor in his extra comfort at the time.
This year was a nightmare that cast an unfavorable light on the Ricciardo-McLaren partnership, and their ability to move forward together.
Ricciardo was expected to struggle for much of 2021 given his particular driving preferences and the fickle nature of McLaren’s speed.
A full year of team development, wholesale regulation changes and a full season in the McLaren cockpit were set to work in Ricciardo’s favor in 2022.
He undoubtedly made progress last year, but it seems like a wall has been hit.
“I guess what’s disappointing for him is that he came through the end of the last generation of Formula 1 and struggled against Lando,” said Sky Sports commentator Paul di Resta. “He’s come into this generation – a completely different driving style, a completely different car and the way it delivers lap times – and he’s still a bit behind him.”
Martin Brundle wrote in his column for the network: “McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo must be very concerned about his relative lack of pace at the moment, whatever tires they threw at him in the race.
“Something has to change there.”
What this magical “something” is, however, no one can guess.
The worry now is that things could continue to get worse and test both McLaren’s patience with Ricciardo and the Australian’s with F1 in general.
The Monaco Grand Prix is next, which must have Ricciardo quivering with anticipation.
Ricciardo was something of a Monegasque master when he was at Red Bull, taking a stunning victory in 2018, while another was robbed in 2016 due to a failed pit stop.
Last year, he suffered the indignity of being passed by his teammate, who scored a remarkable podium.
On the current trajectory of this season, and given that low-speed cornering has been a weakness for McLaren, Ricciardo could be in for another tough race on the twisty streets of Monte Carlo.
It’s not a place to drive on the edge when you’re at war with your own machine, as the 32-year-old discovered last year.
So everything is starting to feel a bit pessimistic on Ricciardo’s side of the McLaren garage.
Surely there is a way out – and Ricciardo’s victory at Monza last year proves he can change his fortunes with a mere glimmer of opportunity.
But as Haas team boss Guenther Steiner pointed out last week; “you don’t have eternity in Formula 1”.
The clock is ticking and has always been ticking.