There are two big battles in Formula 1 in the 2021 season – Mercedes against Red Bull and McLaren against Ferrari, which are fighting for 3rd place and are currently tied at 163 points.
Daniel Ricciardo has had a pretty tough season so far. At the moment, the Australian is the clear number two in the team behind his teammate Lando Norris.
It was clear at the latest at the last race in Hungary that Ferrari is a serious contender when the Italian team secured third place with Carlos Sainz. Neither of the two McLaren cars was able to score a point.
What is obvious is that Ricciardo needs an improvement in performance as the team now needs even better results to beat Ferrari.
It is easy for outsiders to criticize the Australian, but for McLaren, it is understandable that Ricciardo is still having trouble getting used to the car and being behind Norris.
Andrea Stella, racing director of McLaren, also had his opinion on Ricciardo’s situation.
“He came from the opposite end in terms of how you would like to drive an F1 car. Our car requires some special adaptation, let’s say,” he told Motorsport.com.
“I think it’s no secret that our car is good in high-speed corners for example. It may not be the best car when you have to roll speed in the corner, as another example.
“So while we are trying to adjust some of the characteristics to make it a little bit more natural to drive, at the same time, the most important thing is to deliver aerodynamic efficiency.
“So the focus has always been on improving aerodynamic efficiency, even if we couldn’t necessarily improve these aspects in terms of balance and in terms of exploitation of the car.
“And, again, we are relatively happy with the improvement of aerodynamic efficiency that we’ve been able to achieve in the early races. And hopefully a little bit more will be coming in the next races.”
He also gives small insights into Ricciardo’s problems.
“He is a driver who likes to roll the speed in the corner, not necessarily attack the braking, as much as our car requires.
“And I think we understood very quickly, what the issue was in terms of exploiting all the speed.
“And understanding this is good, in a way we could model this aspect, which means then you know what to do in terms of working on the simulator, working in terms of coaching the driver to some aspects.
“And so this is in hand, and this is understood. But in F1 the progress that we see is not necessarily like a switch from race to race.”
The shorter practice times on Friday were also not conducive to Ricciardo, he said.
“Sometimes I make the example of a musician,” says Stella. “You can tell him how to play a guitar, you can use a lot of theory, but at some stage, you will have to spend quite a lot of time with the guitar and make quite a lot of exercise.
“And you don’t necessarily take a step in a concert, most of the progress you make you make it when you work in the background at home, and you spend hours and hours exercising.
“One aspect, which I don’t hear enough about, is that in current F1, it is not easy to exercise. Winter testing was to a minimum in 2021, and on Friday, you have one hour less to practice.
“And still it’s a practice in preparation for a race, it’s not a practice in which you can do some systematic work, of adapting to a car, understanding all the subtleties that are required to operate at the incredibly high level at which F1 drivers operate nowadays.
“And I have to say, and I’ve been in this business for some time, the level of drivers now is very high. The number of drivers that can drive at a very high level is considerable, compared to what I have seen previously.”
When asked why the team does not adapt to Ricciardo, but he has to adapt to the car, Stella has also had an opinion.
“F1 cars are in a way objects that are relatively far from normal cars,” Stella added. “Because their performance is entirely dominated by the aerodynamic delivery.
“Then you work with suspensions, you work with other mechanical aspects, but those aspects are very often compensation or integration of what is the leading parameter, which is the aerodynamic delivery of the car, at the various attitudes – the attitudes being the front ride height, the rear ride height, the yaw angle, the roll angle.
“This is what causes the car to be strong in a straight line, and to be less strong as soon as you generate some yaw angle or rotation of the car.
“At the same time, when I talk about aerodynamics, this is definitely what leads to these characteristics. But it’s also quite difficult to fine tune these, because to generate the aerodynamic forces, you need a very established flow structure.
“And it takes months and months or years and years of development to consolidate these structures, such that you can achieve the aerodynamic efficiency of the current F1 car, which is absolutely astonishing and never matched in the past by any F1 car.
“When you embed these characteristics so deeply, it is difficult to change them. So then it’s easier to work with mechanical aspects. But even those aspects are relatively limited because of homologation in 2021. So you find yourself relatively stuck, I would say.
“And that’s why a lot of the requirement and a lot of the demand shifts on the driver side. This is the tool, it’s quick, but it needs to be driven in a certain way. There’s not much we can do at the moment.
“So while we can improve the aerodynamic efficiency, it is a lot more difficult to improve some of the characteristics we need to [suit] driving style.”
He has also answered the question of how long McLaren is going in this direction.
“We’ve been scratching our heads, how long do these characteristics go back in time? How much have we embedded some of the characteristics?
“I speak a lot about aerodynamics, but that’s where the forces come from, essentially. And, indeed, I think it goes back to some seasons before the current season.
“So in a way, it’s a McLaren set of characteristics in terms of how the car delivers the aerodynamic forces which is not new to this year’s car. This year’s car is a close sister of last year’s car, and there’s certainly a close relationship to the  car.
“So in a way, it has to do with the methodology which can produce quick cars – I guess we all agreed on that one – but with some characteristics, let’s say.
“I don’t want to say too much about these characteristics, because even if we are changing dramatically the technical regulations [for 2022], because this is so embedded, certainly at McLaren we have an objective of we want to improve some of these characteristics in the future. Because they might have to do with some of our methodological aspects.
“So it’s a wider reflection that we are going through, it’s not only about the 2021 car. But in general it is no mystery when we look at the GPS overlays, which are available to all the teams.
“There are some cars that can generate a lot of their laptime in a corner, and there are some cars that can generate a lot of the laptime, for example, in the straight line part of braking.
“So these aptitudes of the car associated with these two phases is quite different. In braking your straightline characteristics are more important. In the middle of a corner, if you take a corner like Turn 2 in Hungary, it’s such a long corner, so the car spends quite a long time in a lateral demand.
“And then it’s always difficult in F1 to find something that lends from a development point of view, these two things, and you get a car that is good on both.
“Normally when you get a car that is good on both, then it means you are potentially one of the top two cars.”
Ricciardo’s problems are unexpected for the team, but they are still convinced that his presence brings positive aspects.
“We do see progress step-by-step. And we also see the race craft of Daniel, which is very complete. So if anything, the key bit we need to add at the moment is that little bit of speed.
“But the starts, understanding of the racing, the way he’s been so precise in keeping some bigger cars behind him, like if we think about [Silverstone] with Carlos, this race craft is very strong.
“And then there is the attitude, the attitude is very positive, exactly what we see and what you know about Daniel, which means even when we are not achieving the speed that we would like, the spirit is strong, the motivation is very high.
“And somehow we keep enjoying the journey. Not necessarily in my experience, a driver who cannot find the final one tenth of a second, keeps being an enjoyable driver to work with for the whole team, let’s say.
“But this is the case with Daniel. So I’m very optimistic for the future.”