After more than a year of struggles at McLaren, where he has mostly been in the shadow of Lando Norris, there finally seems to be a glimmer of hope that things are looking up.
His improved pace in Baku put him in the window where McLaren had to step in with team orders as his strategy unfolded, and it feels like Ricciardo has taken the leap by understanding what he needed to get the most out of his F1.
The challenge of finding the missing few tenths was not easy for Ricciardo, as it was more a case of detail than something obvious that stood out as totally wrong.
But, as he explains, sometimes becoming one with a car is something that comes down to a personal feeling rather than anything that can be shown on a computer screen.
“As a racing driver, we thrive on competition and being competitive,” he said, when asked by Motorsport.com to describe what was missing. “But I think we also thrive on that feeling of being connected and that feeling of going around. It’s kind of a powerful feeling.
“So when you’re not gelling with the car, it’s a lot of that feeling that you miss.
“It’s a bit like dancing; you want you and your partner to be in harmony. And if this is not the case, it is a little less pleasant. »
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, on the grid
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Ricciardo’s form on Baku suggested he may have brought his dance partner up to speed, and it appears a post-Monaco GP session in the McLaren simulator at Woking helped unlock some answers.
His weekend in Monaco had been a weekend where things started well but then went off the rails: and digging deep into the details of what happened there helped produce answers for improvements elsewhere.
“There are definitely some good signs coming out of this,” he added. “So I think the encouraging part is probably that we’ve made some progress.
“I think obviously there’s something to understand, but then it’s kind of put into practice. There’s still more to tap into, but I think that’s definitely a good sign.”
McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl says the main thing Ricciardo lacks is the confidence to find the final tenths of qualifying – which goes back to that dance partner vibe.
Seidl said: “Especially in qualifying and when you have to push this car to the absolute limit, he just doesn’t feel as comfortable as Lando.
“And then he’s missing those last percentages. That’s where the gap comes from, with the fact that he’s obviously up against a Lando who is in top form.”
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Being a thing of trust also means it’s something that can change like the flip of a switch; rather than needing a specific automotive part to be designed and manufactured.
“I know I can still do it,” added Ricciardo. “I think in this sport everything works at such a high level and if something is a little out of tune it can have a carry-over effect.
“So it’s really just for me to come back to that place where I’m in tune, fully in tune, with the car and then it will come. I’ve felt it before, you know, so I think it might come at any circuit and I think from there it will probably start building again, with a good pace.”
What’s also important to understand is that Ricciardo seems to be finding his feet again, this is unrelated to Zak Brown’s recent media comments on the Aussie’s performance.
Brown’s remarks about Ricciardo’s form failing to meet expectations sparked a flurry of speculation about his future – and were seen by some as a wake-up call.
It’s not, says Seidl.
“I don’t think Daniel is a driver, with the experiences he has, that he needs any outside pressure to keep working hard to find those final percentages and feel fully comfortable with it. the car,” he explained.
“The team after Monaco, with Daniel, did the same thing that we always do, and like we do with Lando: try to study the data obviously in detail to see where we see areas for improvement, and that is what happened.
“I haven’t seen any employee, no matter if it’s a mechanic, engineer or driver, in the last 20 years I’ve been in motorsport, which is is improved by being criticized in public.”
Like almost everything in F1, progress comes from analysis, finding answers and hard work.