Ricciardo’s startling fall from grace

Sad marriage: Ricciardo has struggled to adapt to the McLaren, which hasn’t suited his driving fashion.

Going nowhere: Having finished as high as third in the drivers’ standings during his time at Red Bull, Ricciardo currently sits at a lowly 12th.

Going nowhere: Having completed as excessive as third within the drivers’ standings throughout his time at Purple Bull, Ricciardo at present sits at a lowly twelfth.

The final race of a Components One season is inevitably an emotional second for drivers. There are at all times a couple of leaving one group to hitch one other and a few who’re considering unsure futures. There could also be one or two who name time on their careers. This yr will likely be no totally different.

When the curtain comes down on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it should sign an abrupt pause or in all probability even the top for one of many sport’s most fun drivers over the past decade.

He’s somebody who outperformed four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in his first yr at Purple Bull, gave reigning two-time champion Max Verstappen a run for his cash throughout their time collectively after which produced some superb ends in not-so-competitive equipment at Renault.

His infectious grin and comedian antics made Daniel Ricciardo a fan favorite. However the goofy exterior didn’t prolong to the monitor. The Australian is an eight-time Grand Prix winner and was broadly thought to be an elite driver — even a possible world champion in the suitable automobile.

Nevertheless, since his fateful change to McLaren in 2021, the ‘Honey Badger’, as he’s recognized, has had a torrid run, outperformed and overshadowed by teammate Lando Norris.

He joined McLaren on a three-year cope with a wage estimated to be north of $20 million. However regardless of scoring the group’s solely win since 2012 in Monza final yr, Ricciardo has not delivered. That win didn’t flip the tide for him, as his group and followers hoped it might. 

An issue of alignment

But it surely did present that when he has a automobile that aligns along with his driving fashion, he can wring a consequence out of it. Sadly for Ricciardo, Monza was a one-off. At most race weekends, he has struggled to adapt to the McLaren, which has confirmed a handful to drive.

Whereas his underperformance final yr was papered over a bit by the win — Norris outscored him 160 to 115 over the season — hopes of a turnaround this yr rapidly dissolved. The brand new rules have solely exacerbated this deficit and uncovered his weak spot. He has managed only a third of Norris’ factors tally (35 vs. 113), with one race to go. 

Ricciardo’s efficiency has value the group massive time because it trails Alpine by 19 factors. Whereas the Alpine drivers are carefully matched on factors, enlarging the group’s tally, the gulf between Norris and Ricciardo is ready to value McLaren hundreds of thousands of {dollars}, with it more likely to lose the struggle for fourth place within the constructors’ battle.

It was clear from early on within the season that Ricciardo’s struggles would proceed. After the race in Monaco, the place he completed thirteenth and Norris sixth, McLaren boss Zak Brown hinted that Ricciardo’s place within the group subsequent yr was removed from sure.

McLaren’s endurance finally ran out. A lot in order that the group has paid Ricciardo to take a seat out the 2023 season and changed him with a rookie in fellow Australian Oscar Piastri. 

Piastri, who was a part of Alpine’s younger driver academy, is managed by one other Australian, Mark Webber, and the latter noticed a gap to get his driver a seat after Alpine dithered.

Ricciardo’s fall from grace has been drastic and reveals how typically the unsuitable equipment can deliver even the very best of drivers down.

Narain Karthikeyan, the primary Indian driver in F1, is aware of Ricciardo nicely, having been a part of the identical group, HRT, throughout the latter’s maiden season in 2011. 

Talking to The Hindu, Narain mentioned, “F1 is a troublesome place and typically being on the unsuitable place on the unsuitable time can actually have an effect on you. There’s something essentially totally different with the McLaren that Ricciardo has not been in a position to deal with.

“You don’t go from being a really good driver to average just like that. It shows how unpredictable the sport can be and it has not helped that he has a very strong teammate in Lando Norris.”

Providing extra perception into Ricciardo the motive force, Narain mentioned, “He was a great character. Outside of the car, he liked to have fun and be the happy-go-lucky kid but once in the car he was very quick and had a great work ethic. He worked really hard.”

When the automobile drives you

Figuring out what may very well be an issue, Narain mentioned, “There’s a primary driving fashion that you simply construct over your profession as muscle reminiscence. Then there are issues you are able to do to adapt like springs, dampers and front-wing angles. However right here it appears the automobile and the platform don’t go well with him in any respect.

“When that happens, you don’t have the confidence in the car. So instead of you driving the car, the car is driving you.”

Noting that Ricciardo has beforehand fared nicely towards his teammates, Narain mentioned, “The fact that Norris has blown him away wouldn’t have helped his confidence either.”

Ricciardo not too long ago mentioned in an interview that, not like him, Norris has solely pushed McLarens all his profession and typically that may assist; for Ricciardo, the data of what race-winning vehicles can do had maybe not labored in his favour.

When requested about it, Narain mentioned, “It is true that Norris knows the team and the car well for a while but, at the same time, this is where experience counts and you would expect someone like Ricciardo, who has been around for a decade, to find a way to adapt.”

With all doorways shut for subsequent yr, the Australian has mentioned he’s in search of a reserve position. There are rumours he might return to Purple Bull and even Mercedes. Such a transfer might assist him keep in contact with the F1 world and allow him to identify attainable openings for 2024. However can doing simulation work fulfil a pure racer? Apart from, there is no such thing as a assure that both group, with its celebrity drivers, would need to upset the applecart.

The opposite choice is to take a seat out a yr and are available again recent. It labored for Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who had been out for 2 years however had been capable of return to respectable groups. Sadly for Ricciardo, he has been pressured to stroll away along with his fame at its lowest. A yr’s absence might pull the plug on his F1 profession. 

No matter he decides, he is aware of there aren’t any ensures about his future. Ricciardo made his title in 2014 along with his breathtaking late-braking overtakes, serving out a drubbing to Vettel. However now the 33-year-old might very nicely be driving his final Grand Prix identical to his previous teammate.

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