'F1 shaping up to be pretty awesome' says Daniel Ricciardo


He's beaten his team-mate at the first attempt, and says there's more to come from his McLaren. No wonder Daniel Ricciardo is looking forward to a close battle in this year's F1 midfield pack

Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying for the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

First test passed: Ricciardo starts ahead of team-mate Norris in the Bahrain GP

Frederic Le Floc'h/DPPI

Daniel Ricciardo’s move from Renault to McLaren was announced so long ago that in recent weeks he’s almost been overlooked amid the talk about Sebastian Vettel going to Aston Martin and Sergio Perez to Red Bull.

However, like Carlos Sainz at Ferrari and the returning Fernando Alonso at Alpine, the Aussie has faced a big challenge over the winter.

Changing a Formula 1 team is never easy, especially in an era when they are such huge organisations, and cars such complex beasts to master.

Throw in the fact that drivers had just one and a half days of testing with which to properly familiarise themselves with their new cars and environments, and it hasn’t been easy for any of those mentioned above.

Ricciardo’s first big test came in Bahrain this weekend, and he passed it with flying colours, in qualifying at least. He finished his first session with McLaren in sixth place – and crucially one spot ahead of his team-mate Lando Norris, who is starting his third season with the Woking outfit.

“Beating Lando is a nice bit of a confidence booster for myself”

Beating your team-mate is always an important measure, and to do it first time out was a great boost for Ricciardo.

Of course it’s not that clear cut – the gap was tiny, Norris didn’t have a perfect session and, like Ricciardo, the young Brit is also new to the Mercedes engine and its associated systems. Nevertheless, it was a timely statement of intent.

“I mean it’s a nice tick in the box , you can’t deny that,” Ricciardo said when asked by this writer after the session.

“But honestly as much as I want be the fastest guy in the team, I really didn’t let’s say put pressure on me beating Lando today.

“Obviously to do it’s a nice bit of a confidence booster for myself, but all I wanted to do was I guess get closer and closer, and keep kind of making progress within myself.

“And I think through quali I really started, not every corner, but I started to find the limit of the car in some places, so for that I feel I made a nice step. I think the leaderboard is probably the little cherry on the top, but I think internally I have a lot more satisfaction with what I was able to find in the car.”

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McLaren looked strong in last week’s Bahrain test, and many thought that the orange car could have been a place or two higher than sixth. Of course it’s all smoke and mirrors until qualifying proper, so we finally got our first real handle on where everyone stands.

“I think this qualifying is probably a pretty good representation of I guess F1 at the moment,” said Ricciardo. “It looked like Red Bull did make a step, or obviously at least Max [Verstappen]. I’m not sure if he’ll have that gap on Mercedes the whole year, but certainly around here has been hooked up. I think those two teams will have that gap, but after that?

“After the test it looked like it was AlphaTauri, Ferrari, us – I think it was us three looking pretty much inseparable. And then maybe only a tenth or two back to everyone else. And it looks somewhat like that. Kind of as expected in our minds, but you never know. I think it’s going to shape up to be pretty awesome this year.

“I think quali today was a sign of things to come. Personally I’m happy to obviously have had a decent Q3 and I think if you look at it, even though I’m experienced, it still takes time I think to really find the limit of a car.

“And I think the level now is high, with everyone on the grid and quite familiar with these cars. You look at Sainz and Perez and that, obviously they are a little bit further from their team-mates. I’m certainly not saying I know it all yet, or I have it all yet, but I’m certainly happy with my start. So I’ll try and just get better from here.”

“We can’t get carried away but we’re on the front foot”

As noted modern F1 cars are more complex beasts than most of us can imagine. They behave differently on track, they have different systems, the brakes and power steering systems feel different. It simply takes time.

“I’m still getting there. I feel I definitely made a step in quali, and even just as far as like committing on the brakes and throwing the car in, like let’s say driving with a bit more confidence, I had that.

“But probably still knowing exactly what I want in this car, I can’t say I’m really set on that yet. I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe a little bit more above the middle, but I probably don’t know what I like in this car as yet as a real baseline.”


Ricciardo satisfied after Bahrain qualifying

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Ricciardo couldn’t have got off to a much better start at his new home. Everyone in the team already knows that the right decision was made when a replacement was needed for the Ferrari-bound Sainz.

“Obviously we can’t get carried away. But I certainly feel like starting on the front foot just helps. Not only let’s say confidence, but probably confidence in the team, that they’re like, ‘Alright this is good, we got someone to obviously try and help us build this team and get it that step closer.’

“I certainly don’t think I’m there yet, and it’s probably going to take a few more races, but we’re on the front foot, let’s say that.

“I certainly feel good about it. The last few months the team have worked me I’d say pretty hard, probably harder than I’ve worked before! I wouldn’t say they’ve wasted my time. I think just their attention to detail, and I think their drive as a team, to want to keep getting better. It sounds so simple, but just what I’ve seen, has been really impressive. So it’s a good atmosphere.”

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It’s way too early to suggest that Ricciardo will have the upper hand over Norris. The latter has been steadily maturing, but it’s worth noting he’s still way behind his incoming new team-mate in terms of overall experience. You have to make a few allowances for that, and see how it all balances out over the season.

It was interesting to note that while on paper he was quick on Friday, second overall behind Verstappen, he wasn’t happy when he did TV interviews. He knew the car wasn’t right.

“It was just because the result was alright, everyone thought everything’s amazing,” Norris admitted. “But even when the result’s okay, it doesn’t mean everything is amazing and the car was pretty difficult to drive and tricky, so as a driver I’m not going to be happy with it.  We spent a lot of time last night trying to make improvements.

“I think we are where we expect to be, I think we’re quite happy. Of course, we would have been a bit happier to be ahead of both Ferraris, and both AlphaTauris, but I think throughout all of the qualifying I was sure that the AlphaTauris were quite a bit quicker than us, or just quicker than us, from the very first round we did in qualifying.

“I think we’re happy to split them at least, and probably split the Ferraris too. Of course everyone was thinking we were going to be heroes for some reason after yesterday, but we knew we were never going to be.


“So we kept focus on ourselves we didn’t see the results as anything special, so we can be happy with the result today.”

Lando added: “Mercedes aren’t as special as what they have been the last few years. Whether they’re going to be much better in the race tomorrow, we’ll have to wait and see. I think they still have a better car.

“They just look a little bit slow on the straights, and maybe that’ll come into their hands tomorrow with the tyres and keeping them in a better condition and so on. There’s chances for us to go forward, and if it’s a Mercedes or Red Bull, then we’re still going to be taking it and fighting for it.”

He didn’t make a big deal about it, but he also had an issue with energy deployment that compromised him a little.

“I was pretty happy with it, of course one position would have been nice, Daniel and I were split between two-hundredths or something.

“It’s a little bit here, and there and we didn’t have the smoothest of runs with some of the deployment and things like that, so not a perfect run for us, but it wasn’t bad, and I’m not gonna complain, or have any excuses. I think I’m where I deserve to be, and we are as a team, so we’ve got a fight on our hands tomorrow and try and go forwards.”

A great team player, as he demonstrated over the last couple of years alongside Sainz. McLaren knows that it has another classy pairing, albeit a different dynamic. It’s going to be fascinating to see how their relationship develops – and what progress the team can make in 2021.