Is Ricciardo’s move to McLaren the right one?
One of F1’s most entertaining and charismatic drivers, Daniel Ricciardo is determined to turn patter into podiums. But has he made a shrewd choice in switching to the orange of McLaren? Matthew Henderson takes a look.
Having first stepped onto the F1 grid back in 2011, Daniel Ricciardo brings more experience and more personality than most of his competitors.
He raced with Toro Rosso (Red Bull’s junior F1 team) in 2012 and 2013, before making the move to the big team in a year later, where he remained until 2018. He enjoyed 7 race wins and 29 podiums during his time at Red Bull, but began to feel unhappy when hot-shot rookie Max Verstappen arrived on the scene. Verstappen was hailed by many, including Red Bull, as the next world champion and potentially the youngest ever to achieve the feat.
All the attention became directed toward Verstappen, with Ricciardo feeling pushed aside, wondering whether he may have to move elsewhere to put himself in championship contention again. And move he did.
To many people’s shock, Ricciardo announced during the 2018 season that he was leaving Red Bull and had signed a two-year deal with rival Renault. The move was covered in great detail in the Netflix show ‘Formula One: Drive to Survive’. Many questioned why he would move to the move to Renault as, despite their upward trajectory, they were still a mid-field team. They have previously been a championship-winning team however, and claimed glory in the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but left the sport in 2010 to focus on being an engine supplier. They returned in 2016, although the demands of getting back up to speed with their competitors has proved difficult in what has been a disappointing start to life back on the grid.
Ricciardo wanted a break from the pressure of a top team and thought that he could help Renault return to success once more. Despite his time there not getting off to the best start, Ricciardo did achieve two podiums in 2020, but he didn’t feel that Renault was living up to their promises.
At the time, he held talks with McLaren, who were also in a period of transformation, but got the impression that they had too far to go and Renault was the safer option. However, the opposite became true with McLaren announcing an exciting driver line-up for 2019 of teenager Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr, and this, along with new CEO Zack Brown, allowed the team to go from strength to strength in the years that followed. The peak of this came with McLaren finishing third in the 2020 Constructors’ Championship, while Renault lagged behind in fifth.
When McLaren announced Sainz would be moving to Ferrari for 2021, Ricciardo decided to leave Renault and make the switch to McLaren. They emerged as the obvious choice and the decision looked immediately vindicated as his future side started the season strongly, with Norris securing third in the season opener. In doing so, the 20-year-old became the youngest brit to stand on the podium, surpassing Lewis Hamilton, in what was the team’s best start to a season since 2014.
Many have speculated that his change of teams may be a bit of a sidestep, but I argue it will be a step up. Coming off the back of finishing 3rd in 2020 and enjoying the extra prize money that comes with it, McLaren will have Mercedes engines for 2021. As a bid to save cost in the midst of the pandemic, F1 have introduced a freeze on car development for 2021 cars with teams not being allowed to radically change their cars as is often the case between seasons. Each team has been given tokens as to limit development.
McLaren will have to use these token on adapting their car to fit the new engine. Luckily their 2020 car (which this season’s car will be very similar to) was one of their best in recent years and with the new engines, it should only become a more formidable force on the track.
There is always the risk that there are issues with new engines and, despite having the best one on the grid, they still could struggle. However, F1 cars are set to change drastically in 2022 with a different concept of a car being introduced. Even if 2021 isn’t as good as 2020, the year 2022 will allow Ricciardo the opportunity to truly show what he is made of.
As McLaren look to scratch and claw their way back to the forefront of the sport, Ricciardo is the perfect driver to join them. His many years of experience will be invaluable to the team, while the team’s strong car can offer the driver’s best chance of returning to the top. And maybe, just maybe, he can become World Champion.