After he admitted it has been his toughest season in the F1, it appears Daniel Ricciardo is not alone when it comes to running out of answers.
Ricciardo has been one of the big stories of the F1 season as it was assumed the Aussie would have landed on his feet at McLaren.
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But instead he has followed the trend he set at Renault, taking a season to find his feet in his new surroundings.
While he’s already on track to beat the 54 points for the season he scored in his first season at Renault with 50 this year, McLaren are aiming to nip at the heels of the big two of Mercedes and Red Bull rather than just being “the best of the rest” when he joined Renault.
It’s a much different position he finds himself in at McLaren with the constructor finishing third last season.
Currently the team is equal third with 163 points alongside a resurgent Ferrari, thanks to third-year Brit Lando Norris, who is third in the drivers championship with his 113 points putting Ricciardo to shame.
Norris has been on the podium three times, while Ricciardo’s best has been fifth.
And head-to-head, it makes even more dire reading for the Aussie.
With the first 11 races of the season dominated by questions of how to get Ricciardo up to speed, his team has been peppered with questions about the Aussie, and seemingly getting more and more frustrated by the week.
Even Norris admitted he doesn’t have the answers, having given everything he can to get the Aussie up to speed.
“I don’t know where else I can help,” he said, quoted by Motorsport-Total.com.
“I tell him what I feel, he has all my data, he can see everything I do, I describe things very well in the debriefings and what I do.
“I’m not going to lie, but at the end of the day it’s not up to me.”
Norris isn’t alone being out of answers as McLaren CEO Zak Brown even gave Ricciardo a rev up before the British Grand Prix.
“I think we are surprised, he’s surprised that he’s not nearer Lando’s pace — but the good news is everyone’s working very hard, everyone knows where we need to improve,” Brown said at the time.
“Daniel knows where he needs to improve, so there’s no excuses, just hard work ahead of us and I hope he gets on top of it because we need two cars constantly in the front if we’re going to hold onto third in the championship.”
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl also ruled out the issue being an issue with the hardware.
After scoring no points in the last race in Hungary, Ferrari were allowed to draw level on 163 points with McLaren, but the Prancing Horse is ahead on countback of most P2 finishes.
It makes it all the more important for Ricciardo to find some performance heading into the final 12 races of the year.
“Of course I want him to do well because that’s what we need for the Championship,” Norris said.
“We want to beat Ferrari and for that he has to do well, but I can only do something to help him to a certain extent.
“Ultimately, he’s a different driver. And I drive differently. Every driver drives differently than anyone else in the world. And what he feels is different from me, and what I feel is different from him.”
While Norris describes 2021 as “definitely my best season” so far, Ricciardo called this the toughest season of his career.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve consistently found it difficult,” Ricciardo admitted in an interview with Speedcafe.
“For sure over the years you have bad weekends, and even you might have two bad ones on a trot, but then you kind of get it right where I feel like it’s been definitely more bad, or more or less impressive than good.”
Why the McLaren is so hard to drive
It’s not all Ricciardo’s fault however.
Seidl has long admitted that “Our car needs a certain way of driving it in order to extract the performance Lando can extract from it” which is “not natural for Daniel”.
Even Carlos Sainz, the man who used to sit in Ricciardo’s seat admitted to the Aussie that it was a tough drive.
“I bumped into Carlos, I don’t know when it was, not too long ago and he said, ‘What do you think? Strange huh?’,” Ricciardo said before the Monaco Grand Prix. “I was like, ‘Thanks for telling me’.”
But maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
McLaren strategy director Andrea Stella admitted to The Race that Ricciardo “came from the opposite end in terms of how you would like to drive a Formula 1 car.”
“Our car requires some special adaptation,” he said. “It’s no secret that our car is good in high-speed corners and may not be the best car when you have to roll speed in mid-corner.”
“We are trying to adjust some of the characteristics to make it a little bit more manageable to drive. At the same time, the important thing to deliver is aerodynamic efficiency, even if we couldn’t necessarily improve in terms of balance and (driver) exploitation of the car.”
Could this mean a more fruitful second half to the season?
Time will tell.