Daniel Ricciardo: 'The car is not doing everything I want'

F1

Daniel Ricciardo has revealed to Adam Cooper what's holding him back in the McLaren – but a feisty drive last week points to light at the end of the tunnel

PORTIMAO, PORTUGAL - APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and McLaren F1 talks in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Portugal at Autodromo Internacional Do Algarve on April 29, 2021 in Portimao, Portugal. (Photo by Gabriel Bouys - Pool/Getty Images)

Daniel Ricciardo struggled in Portimão qualifying, then fought back in the race – he feels he knows where the main problem lies

Gabriel Bouys - Pool/Getty Images

Ninth place isn’t where Daniel Ricciardo wants to be finishing a Grand Prix, especially on a day when his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris charges to a superb fifth.

However in Portugal last weekend that humble result came as a boost to the Australian following a disastrous qualifying session that saw him fail to make it out of Q1 in 16th place. Given that only one driver who qualified ahead of him retired, Kimi Räikkönen, an overall gain of seven places was a respectable achievement.

Ricciardo has not had an easy start to his first season with McLaren. Like the other drivers who have switched teams, it’s taking him time to become fully at home with his new car, a process not helped by the lack of pre-season testing.

He’s also come up against a new team-mate in Norris who, in his third year with the Woking team, is now reaching another level of performance, and is consistently leading the charge behind the two frontrunning teams.

In terms of gathering points Ricciardo has enjoyed a solid start to the season, with seventh in Bahrain and sixth at Imola. However as in Portugal, at both events Norris was some distance up the road – although to be fair in the Italian event Ricciardo played the team role and at one stage moved over to let the Briton by.

Nevertheless for a guy who comprehensively outperformed Esteban Ocon at Renault last year, chasing being adrift of your team mate is not a pleasant experience, and thus a strong race Portimão was well-timed.

“I’m happy with today,” he said when asked by Motor Sport about his Portuguese race. “It was kind of all I could ask for, kind of my best thing today was always going to be a recovery. I mean, yesterday was obviously for myself not acceptable.

“Whether it’s tricky [conditions] or what, I still obviously hold myself to high standards. And even with a few mistakes, I still shouldn’t be out in Q1.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren

Ricciardo’s feisty fightback drive was well-received by the McLaren team

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

“So that was obviously for me to deal with. And I think the team also dealt with it well, they appreciate that, let’s say, the car is not probably doing everything I want it to do. So they kind of put their hand up as well. But I mean, that one I’ll take, obviously.”

Ricciardo was in determined mood on Sunday. He gained places at the start, and gained a few more after the safety car restart, and was thus immediately up to 11th.

As the race progressed he moved ahead of Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz – a group that included two others still finding their way in new teams. On the downside a few seconds were lost when he slightly overshot his pit stop, and ultimately Fernando Alonso – who he’d passed at the start – got back by.

“Today was better,” he explained. “I certainly still woke up a little frustrated and wanted to have a bit of a forceful race. And I think the first lap was good, I took a few chances, and it paid off. And it was fun.

“There were times on the medium actually, which showed really good pace. And I think there was some good promise there. And then on the hard at the end, it was a little trickier, we still managed to hold onto the points, but I didn’t have like the pace of Alonso, his pace was really, really something on the hard.

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“That definitely was fun, coming through the field. I made hard work for myself yesterday, and that’s why I was obviously so upset, because those qualifyings do shape your weekend.”

Ricciardo enjoyed fighting through, but he concedes that there is much to improve: “We’ve still got some work to do. But actually the clean laps I did, obviously, I was happy. But then there are still mistakes during the race. And most of the mistakes came from the same thing.

“Of course, updates will help, but I think actually just in set-up, I can help myself in that area. So it’s probably something I’ve just maybe missed the first few races, and I think I can probably just change a little bit the set-up to help me in this area. So kind of optimistic looking at Barcelona.”

Ricciardo has a very specific issue that he’s been struggling with, especially in Portugal – one that explains why he’s not comfortable when pushing to the limit.

“To be honest, just locking – locking brakes. Well, it’s a bit of locking, and sometimes it’s losing the rear. But there’s a fine line, I guess. And I think probably there’s a period in the kind of entry phase where the car is on a knife-edge.

“I feel like there’s probably a set-up solution where I can just open that and not be on such a knife’s edge”

“And I feel like there’s probably a set-up solution where I can just open that and not be on such a knife’s edge, because it is really sensitive.

“And I think Lando is certainly able to drive around that better than me at the moment. And probably to fast track my learning, I can just try something with set-up that opens our window, and it’s probably with the suspension or something like that.”

Three weekends in, and having sampled the car on three different tracks, Ricciardo is still learning about how to get the most out of it. The good news is that he is getting a decent handle on what direction to take.

“Definitely after Bahrain and Imola, I had a clear direction for the team as far as updates and feedback to aero, like ‘Okay, this is where we need to improve the car looking forward’. But I still wasn’t sure what I want currently in the car and then how I want to set up the car.

“We’re kind of not trying to go too far away from Lando, because obviously he’s on top of it and driving well. But I think today I learned a few things that maybe I can start to, let’s say set it up to suit me and see how that goes in Barcelona.”

A positive for Ricciardo and indeed all teams and drivers is that after racing at two tracks that they don’t know very well they are heading to somewhere they know better than anywhere else, and where it’s much easier to benchmark a car and know what to do to get the most out of it.

“Yeah, it’s probably the first time in a while I’ve been excited to go to Barcelona! I mean, just for the record, I love the city, but obviously the track we drive there so often.

“But having some familiarity and driving a circuit with pretty good grip and you run high downforce, it should be one where I can really push on the car and let’s say not have too many odd things going on or, let’s say, excuses of any sort.”

The McLaren team doesn’t need Daniel to make excuses – the guys understand how hard it is to adapt to these cars and extract the maximum performance out of them, and that the engineering team has to play a major role in making a driver comfortable.

“Of course he’s the one who is probably disappointed the most because he knows he has it in him,” team principal Andreas Seidl said on Sunday evening.

“And he’s disappointed that he can’t extract the performance of our car yet. But at the same time, he’s very experienced. I think we are also very experienced on the team side, so it’s simply important to stay calm, work through this integration or adaption process together as a team.

“I think he feels very comfortable and happy in the team. I think he’s also very happy with how we together deal with this current challenge, together. And again, I’m 100% sure it is just a matter of more time and then we will see Daniel back to the performance which we all know.

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“Lando is obviously now in his third year with us together, he is fully familiar with how our car behaves, to the characteristics of our car, he’s one with it, he’s one with the team. On Daniel’s side he’s new, and needs to get used to our car.

“The second point is, of course there are also differences between each driver in what they want from a car in order to go to the limit in each corner. And that’s simply something we need to get together with the clear aim to get both cars to the maximum performance on every lap we do.”

Ricciardo’s feisty drive in Portugal was well received in the McLaren camp. Two points wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it represented a good recovery.

“I think it was simply important after the disappointment yesterday that he put this behind himself, together with his engineering crew,” said Seidl. “And going into this race today with a clear objective to fight back, which he did.

“I think we have seen a lot of positive things today from him in our car. I think it was a good race for him. I think it helped him, together with us, to probably also understand more the challenges also that he’s having with our car, and that cost him performance.

McLaren's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren's British driver Lando Norris (R) attend the official press conference of the Portuguese Formula One Grand Prix at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao on April 29, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Norris has been at the sharper end of the field to Ricciardo, but the team are confident the Australian can keep improving

GABRIEL BOUYS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“And I’m quite optimistic with his strong drive today and with the learnings from it that we can make the next step in Barcelona.”

Crucially the team understands Ricciardo’s issues and is working with him to resolve them.

“Obviously he’s in a better position to comment in detail on what he’s feeling,” said Seidl. “But it’s something which just doesn’t allow him to continuously push the car at the limit, because for him in certain dynamic conditions it’s like driving on a knife’s edge.

“But that’s definitely something where I think we made already steps for this weekend, together with him, despite the disappointment in qualifying.

“And we simply have to keep working together with him in order to improve this situation. As always, there’s the driver’s side, but obviously we also look deeply on the team side into this, and see how we can help him with improvements we bring to the car, with set-up changes, in order to lift the performance.”