Why struggling Ricciardo sees F1's summer break as a chance to reset

F1

An idiosyncratic F1 car and a superstar team-mate in the form of his life – Daniel Ricciardo has been up against it so far in 2021, but explains how he aims to use the time off as a chance to regroup

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 01: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and McLaren looks on from the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on August 01, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Never rains but it pours: Ricciardo is looking forward to a break from the intensity of the season to recover

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

For Daniel Ricciardo, Formula 1’s three-week summer break represents a welcome chance to take stock and reset after a difficult start to the 2021 season.

From the start of the year the Australian has been in the shadow of McLaren team mate Lando Norris. This season the latter has barely put a foot wrong. The youngster has often been the best placed non-Mercedes/Red Bull driver in qualifying sessions and races, and he’s logged two priceless podiums.

Ricciardo in contrast has struggled to adjust to the requirements of the MCL35M, a car that seemingly has to be driven in a very different way compared to last year’s Renault.

Inevitably his struggles have become a major topic of conversation, and every weekend he’s had to explain to the media how he’s progressing.

A schedule that sees races coming one after another was good in that he’s had a lot of track mileage with which to experiment. However, time off this month gives him a welcome chance to process what he’s learned so far.

McLaren's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo stands on the side of the track after his car was involved in a crash at the start of the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring race track in Mogyorod near Budapest on August 1, 2021. (Photo by Peter Kohalmi / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Peter Kohalmi has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [McLaren's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo] instead of [McLaren's British driver Lando Norris]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo by PETER KOHALMI/AFP via Getty Images)

Ricciardo looked for a moment like he might be on for big Hungary result – until Charles Leclerc hit

PETER KOHALMI/AFP via Getty Images

“Exactly,” he said after the Hungarian GP. “Approaching the triple header, when we had France and Austria, I was very much excited to have a few races on the bounce and use that momentum.

“And I think now it’s the right time to step away. And sometimes you need to step away. I’m glad we get a break, and I’ll switch off completely. And I also want to encourage the team – I mean for sure, we still got work to do – but I think everyone needs to just detox and decompress for those couple of weeks.”

“Maybe it would have been easier if the race was done then” Daniel Ricciardo

Sometimes it seems that Ricciardo can’t catch a break. Budapest was a great example, with rain and the first corner mayhem opening the race up to whoever was in the right place at the right time to take advantage.

For a few seconds Ricciardo was eyeing an almost empty track behind leader Lewis Hamilton as he threaded the needle past crashing cars, and then boom, he was taken out by Charles Leclerc, himself a victim of a wild move from Lance Stroll. Suddenly Ricciardo was facing backwards, with a broken car.

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“It’s a shame, obviously one of those races where there’s so much available from an opportunity point of view,” he said. “And at one point I was looking at the exit of Turn 1 in second, thinking like, we’ve done all right here, and then Stroll went into Leclerc, who then obviously went into me. Maybe it would have been easier if the race was done then, then less painful for everyone…”

He managed to get going and was able to return to the pits after the red flag. Norris was unable to continue after contact with Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen left his car hobbled, but the McLaren crew was at least able to patch up Ricciardo’s machine.

“We tried, obviously, we tried. The team did the best they could to fix what they could. But the red flag, there wasn’t enough time to take the floor off and try to fix that. I think Lando had quite a bit as well. So they tried with him to change the floor and all that. But with us, bit of tape and a bit of make-up, but it just wasn’t enough to allow us to attack.”

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On a day when points were there to be collected he struggled home in 12th place, and even the disqualification of Sebastian Vettel didn’t help.

“We were able to kind of hang on the edge of the points all race. But anytime I got close, we lost so much more grip and downforce. And it was tricky. I know I don’t stand here alone today with the frustration of someone else’s mistake.

“I mean, we’ve all made mistakes. Of course, I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I think the merit in braking late… I don’t really know if there was anywhere [Stroll] could have gone anyway.

“In the end it showed that he had nowhere to go, and he had to go on the grass, basically. I think to brake late, for no reason… I think sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and settle for position. But hey, a lot of us were in that position today, being caught out with someone else.

“The start is such a unique circumstance as well. There is so much more intensity, and maybe for a moment you think you see a gap. So you go for it, and then maybe it closes, and just there’s so many cars.

“I’m not defending Valtteri or Stroll today, because from what I saw, it was pretty obviously their mistake, but I would still vote for the standing start. But you just have to be prepared to be a bit more mature.”

Ricciardo has always been a glass half full guy, and even after his disastrous Sunday in Hungary he was able to see positives as his former team mate Esteban Ocon grabbed the available opportunity and won the race.

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After scrapping at the tail-end in Hungary, the Australian is looking forward to a summer break reset

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“I’m very selfish, I kind of just think about me and what could have been,” he said. “I don’t mean to put him in this conversation. But a race like this, it’s kind of cool that Lewis didn’t win, in terms of someone took the most of the opportunity.

“I’m not trying to say negative about Lewis, what I’m trying to say is Ocon got hold of it. Somebody’s got to live out their dream. He got he’s got his first F1 win, something I’m sure he dreamed of since he was five or six years old.

“And I think when you work pretty much your whole life for that, I’m glad at least someone could could make the most of that opportunity today. So for that, I’m happy. I’m happy he won, I’m happy it’s another first time winner. And it’s nice to see.”

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Earlier in the Hungarian weekend Motor Sport asked Ricciardo to sum up the first half of his 2021 season, which saw him in the points eight times albeit inevitably behind Norris.

“Definitely, from a result point of view, I’m not jumping up and down,” he said. “But from a team point of view the car can do it. And just obviously personally it’s been more tricky for me to adapt to it. So like I would say for results on track, I’d give myself a five out of 10.

“But let’s say, my attention, and the work I’m putting in and my effort with the engineers, and the homework I’m doing, I’ll give myself, I don’t know, nine, nine and a half. It’s not through lack of trying. I’ve just got to be kind of, I guess, patient now.”

So has the struggle to get up to speed come as a shock, given that he’s changed teams previously without too much trouble?

“It has. Unfortunately, we always have so much belief and confidence in ourselves that we expect it just to be fine. And when it’s not, you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have to work a bit harder this time.’ So it did knock me about a little bit, for sure.

“Weekends like Monaco, that’s hard to take” Daniel Ricciardo

“And weekends like Monaco, that was hard to take. But I’ve definitely overcome that emotional part of it now. And I’m just like, ‘Okay, it should be tough, this is F1, there’s 20 of us here. If it was easy, then there’ll be many more doing it.’ You have to just recalibrate a little bit your expectations of it all.”

Part of that ongoing reset has been adjusting to the consistently strong form of Norris: “I think he’s having definitely the season of his career so far. And he’s showing that maturity now in a third year driver. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, I knew he was talented, but how much? He’s definitely showing top tier skills.”

So what has the first half-season at McLaren done for Ricciardo’s confidence? He concedes it’s been tough, but he’s convinced that he’ll bounce back.

“I mean, there’s been times this year where it’s for sure I haven’t been like sky high. But I would say that’s behind me now, those those little dips. And yeah, I’m just ready to go. I think I still very much believe in myself.

“And I think that in itself gives me confidence. And the team have been great, they’re definitely behind me. So I’ve just got to keep at it.”