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Ricciardo's career in tatters: how did it get this far?

Ricciardo's career in tatters: how did it get this far?

3 June - 08:27 Last update: 09:54


Daniel Ricciardo was once given the stamp of a future champion but has since fallen way back. The Australian is under enormous pressure and, despite a 2023 contract with McLaren, is not even sure he will keep that seat. GPblog finds out how it could have come to this?

No appreciation from Red Bull

It is Sunday, May 27, 2018, and Ricciardo could not send a bigger signal to Red Bull Racing. The Australian impressively captures his seventh victory for the Austrian team and his first on the streets of Monaco. Where Red Bull signed a long contract with Max Verstappen, however, a new deal for Ricciardo remained out.

On the track, however, Ricciardo showed his mettle. Verstappen made mistake after mistake in the first six races, including Monaco. Ricciardo was still in the title race thanks to two victories, while Verstappen's mistakes only caused extra work for his team. It was the ideal negotiating position for Ricciardo, but he made no use of it.

Despite the fact that at Red Bull Ricciardo had a team of which he knew that in time they would be able to compete for the world title again, he missed the appreciation. The fact that Verstappen already had a contract, was protected after the incident between the two in Baku and the leadership of Red Bull stated that the goal was to make Verstappen the youngest world champion were important factors in this.

Middleweight at Renault

It drove Ricciardo from an ideal environment where he could win races with his talents. He fell for the talk of Cyril Abiteboul, who had already driven many a driver crazy with the great stories about Renault. However, Ricciardo soon found out that the words were bigger than the deeds at the French team and even before his second season had begun, he had already signed for McLaren.

For the driver Ricciardo, 2019 and 2020 were not bad seasons in F1. True, he had a lesser car, but at Renault, he was the outspoken frontrunner. In 2019 he drove Nico Hulkenberg out of the team whistling, and Esteban Ocon didn't know what hit him in 2020 when he made his return to F1. Add to that his first two podium finishes in Germany and Imola and you wonder if a departure from Renault was wise.

Norris underestimated

McLaren as a team was a step forward and at his presentation, Ricciardo came in as the big man. However, the Australian had underestimated Norris' qualities a little. The Briton had been equal to Carlos Sainz but saw this as his moment to seize the leadership within the team, and he obviously succeeded.

Norris won the duel convincingly in 2021. In the qualifying duel, it was 15-7 in favour of the Brit with an average difference of 0.192s. In the race duel, it was 15-5. Norris scored 160 points, Ricciardo 115. The only victory, however, went to Ricciardo.

Then in 2022, it had to happen for Ricciardo with the new cars, but again Norris is a lot faster. In the qualifying duel, it is 6-1 for Norris, with an average difference of 0.391s. The race duel is now 4-1 in favour of Norris, who has 48 points against Ricciardo's 11 points.

Ironically, this puts Ricciardo in a similar situation to 2018. Just like against Verstappen, Ricciardo can't find an answer against a younger talent for a while. However, where at Red Bull he had support and was handed a new contract, at McLaren the trust in Ricciardo is slowly crumbling. He gets paid like a star driver but does not perform as such. Zak Brown let it be known openly, and that will not sit well with the sensitive Ricciardo. In addition, Norris also signed a longer deal until 2025, just like Verstappen signed with Red Bull. However, then Ricciardo performed, now he can't say anything.

Future of Ricciardo

In 2018, everyone was convinced that Ricciardo was destined for a great future, but now his career is in the doldrums. Will he fight his way back into a team that has the potential to fight for wins in the future this time around, or will he gamble again at the age of 32 that the grass might be greener somewhere else?

The problem is that Ricciardo doesn't have much choice. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are the clear top teams even with the new regulations, and they already have their line-ups in place for 2023. McLaren is the fourth team on the grid, but the question is whether Ricciardo wants and is allowed to stay there after 2022.

All other options are a step backwards for Ricciardo. Aston Martin needs a new frontrunner with the possible departure of Sebastian Vettel, but that doesn't seem like the place you want to be right now either. Alfa Romeo and Haas have a cheaper front-runner in the house with Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen, and Williams doesn't seem like the place we'll find Ricciardo anytime soon. AlphaTauri is Red Bull's B-team and well the last place where we expect Ricciardo back.

At Alpine, there is still a spot on paper due to Fernando Alonso's expiring contract, but if the Spaniard is pushed aside, Oscar Piastri should be the one to get that spot. With Esteban Ocon, the other seat has already been filled.

Things can go fast with an F1 career. In 2018, Ricciardo was linked with a seat at Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren while driving at Red Bull Racing. Now Ricciardo is driving for the fourth team on the grid and even there his position seems untenable. Aston Martin is the only alternative, so there is only one thing for Ricciardo to do: work even harder, drive even harder and make sure your McLaren seat is safe. After all, he won't get any better than this.

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