Why summer recycling was all Ricciardo needed to change the F1 season
As the Australian wrapped up the first half of the season after facing another pointless afternoon in Hungary, a day his team-mate Lando Norris could have finished on the podium, it could be said that some doubts had started to set in. .
Of course, he had made progress in overcoming the difficulties with his car, but for two steps forward there had often been a step back.
Unlike the days when Norris was the best behind the top two teams, Ricciardo seemed completely lost at sea. Just look at Monaco where he was passed by his teammate.
A few days after the Hungaroring race, we talked about sim racing for a track on F1 2021, and he ended our conversation with a little joke.
“If the season continues to turn bad for me, I’m just going to play a little more…” he laughed.
But when Ricciardo returned for the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, game plan B was not going to be required. There was an instant change in him.
More comfortable with the car, he qualified for Q3 and set the fourth fastest time in the wet qualifying session at Spa: after having faced elements that really call into question the comfort of a pilot with his machine.
Zandvoort was more difficult, as McLaren faced a track that did not suit its chassis at all. But, from the moment he hit the ground at Monza on Friday, something clicked inside him.
The pace was there, and all the discomfort he had faced jostling the MCL35M in the early stages of the corners at the start of the season was gone. On the brakes, one of the key factors in being fast at Monza, there he was.
In Q3 it was tight with teammate Norris as they placed fourth and fifth on the grid for the sprint.
But the frustration of missing out on third place – by just 0.029 seconds – left him in what he called, a “rage.”
Ricciardo said: “I consider myself a honey badger because I have the ability to turn around and feel a lot of rage in a short period of time.
“So that’s how I feel internally, but I’m going to be smart, hold it back and use it for good reason in the sprint and then the race on Sunday.”
Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Channel him, he did. A nice breakaway from the grid during the sprint on Saturday secured him a place in the front row for the race on Sunday; and he knew that if he could get ahead of Max Verstappen at the start, he was going to win.
This is exactly what happened: delivering a flawless performance under immense pressure to give McLaren their first win since 2012 – and confirm that the former Ricciardo was back.
But what was most peculiar about Ricciardo’s return to form was that it wasn’t the result of a radical new car setup or a different approach to driving.
Instead, Ricciardo was just helped by getting away all summer.
The lingering frustrations of the first half of the campaign had plunged him into a spiral of anguish: and it was only by drawing a line in the sand and cutting himself off from the world of F1 that he broke this cycle.
“I never really left, I just walked away for a while, that’s all,” Ricciardo smirked as he told Monza about what had changed.
“And it’s not even just results. It’s me, personally, internally, I definitely feel a little more comfortable and better in myself now.
“So I think yeah just the break, just in August it was good to really die out a bit. It was hard to take that kind of back and look from afar and gain perspective. I think it was. Definitely helped me get back into shape.
But would it really be true that a simple summer break, to go and think about something other than F1, was all Ricciardo needed to resuscitate his 2021 campaign? Team boss Andreas Seidl has no doubts.
“Of course we can see it in the data, and we see it in the lap times,” Seidl explained. “You can also see it in, say, the way it presents itself.
“He’s in a much happier place which is normal for guys when they see they’re back to the performance they expect of themselves.”
He added: “I think it’s probably no different for everyone: sometimes it’s good to take a break and take a little distance maybe too, after a very intense period for him where he put a lot of energy with the team and I saw that the results did not come
“Maybe he needed this break to get away a bit, think about it and then come back and apply whatever we have been working on in the first half of the season.
“I’m very happy, very happy for him, very happy for the crew as well. It’s good to see that all the hard work they put in in the first half of the season is paying off now, and for us as a team it’s important to have both drivers there- down every race weekend to make sure we can fight with the Ferrari.
With just a few points in this fight for third place in the Constructors’ Championship, Ricciardo’s summer recall couldn’t have been better for McLaren.