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Formula 1

The inspiration Ricciardo needs to offset his deficit to Norris

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Daniel Ricciardo knows he’s still not on top of McLaren’s Formula 1 car despite his strong form post-summer break.

Riccardo’s Italian Grand Prix victory set an unrealistic standard for the rest of his season despite the fact it underlined he has made a good step in his bid to gel with the characteristics of the MCL35M.

It was therefore no surprise that he lacked team-mate Lando Norris’s pace at the two races that followed Italy. Overall, he was more competitive relative to the first half of the season, but his Q1 knockout in Turkey was a bump back down to the ground.

Ricciardo’s response was to be the leading McLaren in the United States in both qualifying and the race. He also split the Ferraris in the grand prix and kept ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

It meant Ricciardo’s joyful weekend in the US, which he loves, ended with a result on-track to justify his hype around the event – and a result that looked like he had been well-fuelled by his Texan affection.

“It’s one that for whatever reason I treat like a home circuit,” Ricciardo said after the race.

Oct 25 : United States Grand Prix review

“There’s a few races I treat like this. This is certainly one of them. I enjoy it – I try not to enjoy it too much because I could probably burn myself out.”

Everything about Ricciardo’s demeanour at the US GP suggested a driver with zero worries, having the time of his life. But he wasn’t joking about the risk of taking it too far: “I really do sometimes I have to bring myself back of it because I can be a bit like a kid in a candy store, get too excited and probably burn more energy than I need to.”

Ricciardo could also have suffered from another issue that can come with such fevered enthusiasm for an event, which is that if the performance on-track doesn’t match the build-up the comedown afterwards can be significant.

In Monaco a few months ago Ricciardo had looked forward to a race he loves as an opportunity to build on a tricky first few races with McLaren. He suffered a weekend so bad it really hurt him.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Monaco GP

A lot has changed since then and the much-improved result is evidence of that. But Ricciardo is still not where he wants to be.

“It was a smooth weekend but there’s still definitely moments in the race where I’m like, ‘yeah, I know I can do better’,” he said.

“I still make a few mistakes and [am] not always getting on top of the car.

“It’s coming but it’s still going to take a little bit more time.”

Ricciardo is still trying to offset an ongoing deficit. Even though the results from Austin tell a simple story that Ricciardo outqualified and outraced Norris and was McLaren’s leading man, Ricciardo wasn’t simply riding the crest of a wave in the US. Norris probably should have beaten him.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

Norris was the quicker driver through practice and the first parts of qualifying, where there were a few signs of Ricciardo’s usual deficits to Norris.

He was using a higher gear in Turn 1, for example, holding third while Norris dropped to second.

In final practice, Norris’s minimum speed was better through the Esses and through every braking zone that followed – Ricciardo tended to brake slightly later and scrub off more speed.

Norris underperformed when it counted. He did not reproduce his strong form in Q3 and was giving away some time on the straights with an older engine, which is why Ricciardo snuck ahead.

So Ricciardo didn’t find a step in one-lap performance just because he was in a great mood. But he didn’t beat Norris in the grand prix just because of his starting position either. And this is where Ricciardo came into his own with his feisty, ‘I’m SO up for this weekend’ demeanour.

Especially as McLaren’s locked into a tight championship fight with Ferrari and Ricciardo was staring at the back of both red cars on the grid.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

He briefly fell behind Norris on the opening lap. But a clever and combative performance was the key to recovering, first to nip ahead of Norris during their mega scrap with Carlos Sainz on the opening lap, then to pinch fifth off Sainz when the Ferrari thought he was allowing Norris through (Sainz having expected his move on Norris a few corners before to be illegal).

“Attention was on them,” Ricciardo said. “And I knew the first lap was crucial so that’s why I was so pumped up after getting Carlos.”

Sainz came back at Ricciardo through the race and they had a fierce fight – so fierce that Sainz even accused Ricciardo of being “dirty” when they made light contact in the final stint.

“That’s cool, I’m happy to be dirty,” Ricciardo teased.

Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1

Ricciardo tends to shine in get-your-elbows out moments because his racecraft his exceptionally good.

He has an edge about him in races, where the opportunity for him to grab a situation by the horns and turn things in his favour fires him up. The specific conditions of a race are just that bit different to hooking everything up over one lap and they play to Ricciardo’s strengths as a driver.

Ricciardo is a better racer than a qualifier. That will be more evident when he is still of being “10/10” with the car, which he admits he still is at McLaren.

That he was still missing a tenth or two in qualifying in the US shows that even Ricciardo’s favourite events can’t just gloss over the issues he’s still trying to resolve. But a fired-up Ricciardo is more than capable of offsetting a pace deficit.

Feeling like a “kid in a candy store” helped him do that in Austin. The question is whether that’s replicable outside of a pseudo “home race” or if Ricciardo will need to dig a bit deeper to find the necessary inspiration.

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