Ricciardo admits 2021 is “a very unexpected and difficult season”

Daniel Ricciardo in Austria. Credits: McLaren on Twitter.

After going to McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo found it difficult to match his teammate’s pace, and he is struggling with the car even after nine races.

While Lando Norris is having an incredible season, with three podiums scored, Daniel is not enjoying that much his time at McLaren. Moreover, the Aussie driver believes that on some occasions, he did well. For instance, in Austria with a great recovery. However, the performance of his teammate is making things even harder for him.

“I feel like it’s obviously for whatever reason been a very unexpected and difficult season so far, just from a pace point of view,” he told in an interview with Motorsport.com after the Austrian race.

“And I guess the easiest way for me to kind of move forward is to accept that. Did I expect more? Absolutely. But I think if I every weekend go into it now expecting to be quicker than Lando, or whatever it is, I’m probably just going to end up resenting the sport because clearly, it’s going to take a bit more.

“There’s something that is missing. I feel good in the car, especially the last three weeks, it’s felt better.

“I don’t want to say, what’s the word, wave the white flag, or succumb to whatever it is, I’m just going to not really focus or lose too much energy on that, and just accept that he’s driving very well. The aim is to get closer, and help the team out as well.”

Ricciardo also admitted that the main thing to do if he wants to match Lando’s pace is to focus on himself only and not get distracted by other things. 

 “I think that’s it, you can get lost obviously with other things. And maybe that’s the wise kind of 32-year-old in me now. But I think I’ve just got to focus on myself, and then hopefully, I can keep chipping away at it.”

Ricciardo also said one month ago, that the triple-header could help him to understand the car better, also because there would be two races on the same track. He performed pretty well both in France and Austria. At Paul Ricard he started in P10 and managed to overtake many opponents, finishing the race in P6 behind his teammate. Then, during the first race in Austria, he suffered a reliability problem which ruined his race. On the other hand, the second race was way better, with a P7 finish after many overtakes.

“Yeah, it was better,” he said. “I think it was just the day I needed. And for sure I would say for the team, the points, it was nice to get in seventh and get points for them.

“But I mean personally, right now I’m not in a championship fight, so the points are, I don’t want to say irrelevant, but I think the important thing for me was just having fun, be in some battles, and put myself in a good position.

“And that’s what I did, and the result was some points, which is nice. I just enjoyed it. It’s been hard to fully enjoy it when the results have not been there, so I took a bit more fulfillment from the race.”

Ricciardo also pointed out that on the first laps of the race he can still have a great pace despite being 32-years-old. 

“I don’t know if it’s I’m getting old, but the first laps are a blur!” he smiled. “I remember getting George into turn seven, I don’t remember much else, but I do remember I think on lap one I got two cars, and at the safety car restart I got two cars.

“So that was good, obviously moving forward, and I needed it because obviously out of track position from qualifying. I mean it was a fun race, I saw people get squeezed off, I heard there were some penalties.

“Because we’ve got the big screens and a lot of long straights, you can kind of see what’s going on. So sometimes I’d see a replay of someone get squeezed, and then I’d see their radio get broadcast. Hopefully, the fans were entertained!”

Despite being happy about the performance, Norris managed to step on the podium and finish 40 seconds in front of him even with a 5-second penalty. 

Anyway, Ricciardo felt happy with the car even though he thinks that he still has a margin of improvement. 

“A little bit of the frustration was that I was pretty happy yesterday [in qualifying]. The car doesn’t feel perfect, but it felt pretty good. It felt better than a 13th place car.

“So I think everything felt okay, it’s just not there on the stopwatch. But from a feeling, it’s getting better. Maybe it’s just literally half a tenth in each corner. And then I’m there. I don’t know, but it felt okay.”

Moreover, Daniel admitted that the triple-header helped him a lot, and he is understanding the car better and better. If he looks at the data, he can confirm that he is doing many things differently, and that helps the car.

“Absolutely. And even if I overlay my data from last week to this week, I’m doing a lot more things that this car requires. So I feel like let’s say my McLaren driving improved a lot, and I think that was a bit of the kind of sadness from [qualifying], that unfortunately, it didn’t translate into lap time yet.

“So maybe it’s still a bit conscious and I’m just spending too much energy trying to drive it like that. Maybe just a few more races and then it’s more my subconscious, and then I can put the car more on the edge. Maybe it’s that? We’ll see.”

Thinking about the next race, which will be in Silverstone, Ricciardo hopes that the new weekend format will help him deliver a good performance given that his main point of strength is the good starts and the first laps. 

“The way my starts have been, the last three races, I think I’ve made a minimum of two places every first lap. So having a sprint qualifying means I’ll probably start further up the grid on Sunday! So I’m happy to have two race starts.

“I think probably you have to treat it like a race. If you’re being complacent then ultimately you’re going to start Sunday further back, and then you’re going to take all the risk on Sunday, and maybe risk the front wing then.

“So I would say right now the mindset would be just a normal approach, try to attack when possible and make the most of it.”

The Aussie driver said that he does not know how the new sprint qualifying will be, but he is excited to try it.

 “I mean pitstops make it fun, I’ve got used to doing pitstops, and also it gets the team involved.

“And if they execute a good pitstop, and if you undercut a car or something through a pitstop, everyone feels like they’ve contributed to that victory or that result. I like the team element of it, but we’ll see what it’s like.”

To conclude, Ricciardo admitted that his decision to join McLaren was right and he would not change it. 

“I think at the moment, it’s Lando just having the pace he’s having, and the speed,” he said. “The speed is there in the car. So I think that gives the team a lot of motivation as well to push hard for next year, with new regulations. But obviously, something is clicking with the car. So I think that’s encouraging.”

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