Column | Has Ricciardo's season genuinely been poor?

21-07-2021 12:00
Column | Has Ricciardo's season genuinely been poor?

Daniel Ricciardo has faced a rough dealing for the 2021 season, being thoroughly beaten by Lando Norris who now has more than half of the points the Australian holds. However, as of the British Grand Prix, things seem on the up for the seven-time race winner.

What happened?

Daniel Ricciardo has faced difficult races this season, mostly due to his qualifying pace. This came to its worst point for the Austrian double race, where he was knocked out twice in Q2. However, his race pace has shown good progression, where he has been able to move up the field for the races. This would’ve been likely due to better tyre preservation and driving the car on a more consistent basis, rather than the in-depth understanding required to perfect a single lap attempt.

McLaren qualified well on the Friday, with Norris lining up sixth and Ricciardo seventh. In the Saturday Sprint session, both made up a place, and so too for the Grand Prix. A good haul of points was collected, with both the cars sitting comfortably in fourth and fifth. Punchy overtakes around Fernando Alonso in the sprint race had the hallmarks of the Ricciardo of old, the daring overtaker.

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What now?

The Silverstone Circuit highly consists of medium to high-speed corners. The rear end downforce package, created by McLaren’s innovative diffuser workaround, allows the drivers to get on the power earlier to commit more speed down the straights on the circuit. This circuit could have provided valuable lessons as to how much the Australian can lean on his car without suffering any snaps of oversteer.

Ricciardo was also able to qualify right behind his teammate. This is a strong improvement, considering Norris’ stellar performances when lining up for the grid. Getting the confidence on a rolling basis will help his progress and the team hasn’t shied away from providing him with the support needed for him to find his feet. Marginal gains, when pieced together, allow for strong performance. This was seen in his transition to Renault, where a miserable 2019 gave way to a strong 2020, finishing twice on the podium and recording a points finishing streak from Belgium till Abu Dhabi.

Against the contrary belief of some, Ricciardo hasn't been completely missing out this season. On his first race for McLaren he finished a strong seventh, and it was later found out that he suffered from damage early on during the Grand Prix. In fact, he has only finished twice out of the points: Monaco and Styria. While Ricciardo has been achieving these points finishes and getting more knowledge of the car, Norris has been metronomic, the only driver to have scored points in every Grand Prix this season. Ricciardo has been working hard, diving into the data and understanding his deficits, even listening to past team radios in the winter break to understand the function of the team. The comparison between the McLaren drivers doesn't show Ricciardo as a poor driver, but Norris at the top of his game in the papaya car. As long as the Australian continues to build, it will only be a matter of time till he reaches the same point.

Hungary will be up next, a track at which he won in 2014. While it may be a different ordeal due to high braking and handling dependency, there could still be opportunities to further learn the car’s nature and apply it more effectively for the coming races.

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