Daniel Ricciardo loves his mixed martial arts. And as he entered the Circuit Paul Ricard paddock on Thursday, the Australian looked like a man entering the Octagon – steely determination behind that ever-present smile.
Every Formula 1 driver creates a certain amount of noise both in the media and in the darker corners of the internet. But the noise surrounding Ricciardo – and his future at McLaren – has piled up in a cacophony of “UFC walkout song” proportions in recent weeks.
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High-profile F1 test for IndyCar star Colton Herta; the news shortly after that Alex Palou – another IndyCar ace – would be testing the 2021-spec MCL35M at some point; McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown’s comments in May that Ricciardo’s tenure at McLaren had “failed to meet…expectations”; the potential 2023 availability of Ricciardo’s compatriot Oscar Piastri – it all made tongues quiver, filled Twitter feeds and plumped up columns.
But in the week leading up to the French Grand Prix, Ricciardo picked up his phone to take back control of the narrative – and silence the doubters.
“There were a lot of [rumours] around my future in Formula 1,” Ricciardo wrote on Twitter last week during the second day of testing at Herta. “But I want you to hear it from me. I’m committed to McLaren until the end of next year and I’m not stepping away from the sport. Appreciate that it hasn’t always been easy, but who wants easy!
This tweet has been removed from Twitter
“I’m working hard with the team to make improvements and get the car back to where it needs to be. I still want that more than ever. See you soon at Le Castellet. Daniel”
Well, here he is at Le Castellet – and the Australian looks defiant as he faces the media in the sweltering French heat on Thursday afternoon.
“There will always be rumors and noise,” he says – before being asked if he could just clear up any potential ambiguity around his statement on Twitter regarding a) sticking with “McLaren” (the F1 team? Their IndyCar outfit?) and b) not straying from “sport” (motorsport in general? Or just the F1?)…
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“Will I get out of [F1] or whatever? No!” he says. “That’s not what I want, and there’s unfinished business. Not just in the sport but with the team, with McLaren, and I want to do that.”
He continues: “I also wanted to address – as you know, there are a lot of people in the factory, all these racing teams, there are hundreds of people who work in the factory who don’t come to the edge from the track and obviously don’t get to see it all, also don’t see me on a race weekend, and [see] the work I do or whatever.
Daniel Ricciardo ‘not backing down’ and has ‘unfinished business’ with McLaren
“So also for them, if they’re just reading headlines about, like, what’s Daniel’s future, is he going to change teams again – but they’re trying to develop the car for me, and it’s like, ‘What’s Daniel going to do? I just wanted to remove any doubt from them too. I wanted to address them and be like, ‘Guys, I’m in the same boat with you.’ I just wanted to draw a line underneath.
“I do not back down from any challenge,” he concludes. “Obviously we’ve met a few over the 18 months and all that kind of stuff. But just this” – and here you can detect a surge of emotion through Ricciardo – “I’d love to swear if I I could – but this stuff means a lot to me.
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Helping Ricciardo in France will be upgrades McLaren have made to the MCL36 – upgrades the Australian no doubt hopes will bring the car more towards his style of pushing an F1 machine to its limits, a job he will be doing this weekend around the challenging 3.6-mile Circuit Paul Ricard.
The sun is thankfully starting to dip lower in the sky, dampening a bit what has been a very hot day.
But before embarking on the balmy evening at Le Castellet, the winner of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix is asked if the constant questions from the press about his form, weekend after weekend, were starting to get to him.
“Look, would it be easier not to deal with it all the time?” Probably,” he said. “But…being in this sport for a long time, I know how it works. So I’m not angry. Sure, I use some energy to answer questions, but I don’t use, say, unnecessary energy.
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“Once this [media session] it’s done now” – he dusts his hands together – “I’ll move on to my engineering or I’ll do whatever I have to do. So that’s what it is. At the end of the day, if I go out and win this weekend, then everyone is like, ‘Ah, we told you!’ So I know crossing the line is going to dictate the bigger story and that’s obviously what I’m going to continue to do best.
“Obviously [the victory in] Monza, it worked for a while – then after a few months it kind of went back to how it was. [So winning this weekend would] put a bandage on everyone for a few months!