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Formula 1

Ricciardo’s ‘better late than never’ McLaren feeling explained

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Daniel Ricciardo reckoned Formula 1’s Mexican Grand Prix was a rare occasion he did not feel like a “passenger” in his McLaren.

One week ago Ricciardo cut a disconsolate figure after finishing 16th in a miserable United States Grand Prix in Austin, one of his favourite places and races.

In Mexico, though, he surged to seventh with an attacking final stint on fresh soft tyres set up by a very long opening stint, with those in front on used mediums and hards.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Mexican GP

The post-race contrast couldn’t have been greater. If Austin represented the worst of Ricciardo’s difficult and unsatisfying McLaren stint, which will end in two races’ time, then Mexico was a rare example of the occasional reprieve it has contained.

“There’s been a lot of times where I’ve felt a little bit like a passenger in a way,” said Ricciardo.

“I just feel I’ve worked with such little grip that no amount of talent is going to get the job done.

“That’s where I’ve felt a little bit helpless at times. You feel like you can’t really show anything that you’ve got, because you’re just not operating on the level of the others.

“So to be at least able to lean on it and push and have pace, be the guy that’s setting quick times, makes me happy.

“I wish it could have been like this more often, but I’ll take today and enjoy it.

“I’m happy we’ve got a week off so I can enjoy it for a week!”

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Mexican GP

This was only the seventh time in 19 races this season Ricciardo has scored points.

And unlike his last haul in Singapore, he earned this by being on the offensive rather than inheriting track position and holding on.

“The points finishes, even probably last year, I feel we were normally defending rather than attacking,” he said.

“So just to have an attacking race – especially for me with this car to feel like I can attack a little bit more with it, it’s just a nice feeling.”

Ricciardo ran one of the longest first stints and stopped on lap 44, but extending that opening stint was a risk as it set up a 27-lap final run on softs. He said he “didn’t really care” at that point because “I didn’t have that much to lose”.

Once on the soft, Ricciardo just had to chip away at those in front. He rejoined 12th and 19 seconds behind the lead midfield car – Fernando Alonso’s Alpine – and the pace advantage meant getting into the points was entirely realistic, although he made life tougher picking up a 10-second penalty for an avoidable collision with Yuki Tsunoda.

“I was going to come on the radio and vent a little, but I chose to say nothing,” Ricciardo said.

“I went pretty dark and then decided to keep pushing and try to make up for it.”

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Mexican GP

It was an effective strategy. He gradually picked off Valtteri Bottas, the ailing Alonso and Esteban Ocon (team-mate Lando Norris moved aside early on), then crucially managed to avoid falling into the clutches of George Russell.

Being lapped by the Mercedes would have been a killer for Ricciardo’s race as the lost time would almost certainly have cost him a position or two. Ricciardo staved him off long enough to stay in front before Russell made a late pitstop to go for the fastest lap – “he probably doesn’t think it or know it, but I’ll buy him a beer anyways!” Ricciardo joked.

Ricciardo was not stunningly fast in Mexico, as this result required good pace and sensible tyre management, certainly, but this was not as swashbuckling a recovery as it may have appeared.

He was, however, clearly more comfortable in the car than a week ago in Austin, and certainly competitive. Ricciardo only lacked a tenth or two to Norris. And the difference in the race seemed to be that he was able to lean on the car, especially in the second stint on the soft.

Most encouraging was that he was able to produce that pace consistently and take advantage of the opportunity, something that’s been all too rare this season.

He told The Race recently that he’s often heard Norris say in debriefs that there were parts of the race the car came alive, and one of the things Ricciardo lamented is never feeling the same.

But in this race, did he have what Norris has talked about?

Lando Norris Dan Ricciardo McLaren F1

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “I guess better late than never.

“I’m going to take today for what it is – I’m going to enjoy it and appreciate that we did have pace, it was awesome and whatever.

“I hope that means it will be like that in the next two races! Not to be negative but I don’t even want to look ahead.

“I just want to take it for what it is and hopefully we’ve learned something from it.”

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