Daniel Ricciardo says that his struggles to get on top of the McLaren-Mercedes MCL35M are now “a reality” of the 2021 season given he is well into the middle phase of the campaign.
Last weekend’s British Grand Prix was one of Ricciardo’s strongest events for McLaren in terms of qualifying performance, as he ended up sixth-fastest on Friday and just two thousandths of a second off team-mate Lando Norris.
He converted that into the best finish of his McLaren career in fifth, which takes his points tally to 50 – less than half of Norris’s haul of 113.
Despite the encouraging weekend, which he described as “positive” after qualifying so well, Ricciardo did not consider it a breakthrough and recognises he still has work to do to get on top of the car across a wide range of tracks.
“It’s still definitely at times frustrating, but I’m probably past the point of being frustrated,” said Ricciardo when asked by The Race how difficult it is to be so far into the season and still having to work at the fundamentals in adapting to the car.
“I think now it’s a reality that I’m still needing to find some more and still be at one with the car, that’s probably the best way to put it.
“I guess it’s not anything new for me now. I’m aware that it’s probably still going to be a process.
“I didn’t panic at the beginning, but I was aware that I was losing ground and I was just trying to understand where am I losing and what is it that I need to get those 0.3-0.4s more.”
Ricciardo’s reluctance to declare Silverstone a turning point is perhaps rooted in the fact that he has had false dawns before during this season. The high-speed Silverstone track is not one that requires as much rotation of the car on entry as the Red Bull Ring, where he struggled.
The McLaren is generally limited on front-end grip into such corners, requiring a distinctive style on braking and turn in to achieve the required rotation. At the Red Bull Ring, Ricciardo struggled to achieve that rotation and often heavily compromised his exits due to having to have more lock on later in the corner than Norris.
Silverstone has more high-speed corners where that is less of a problem, although there are still some slower corners. So while it was an encouraging weekend, the Hungaoring next week is likely to be a more accurate test of the progress he has made.
Ricciardo was also surprised that, having closed the gap on single-lap pace, his race pace was less strong.
Generally, the trend has been for his race pace to be better and his biggest struggles to occur in qualifying when the car is on the limit.
But this was not the case at Silverstone, where he finished 14 seconds behind Norris and had to spend much of the race under pressure from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
“It’s strange because you’d think on one lap is maybe where I’d lack more, where you’re really pushing the car on the limit and maybe the race when everything settles down, I’d have a bit more,” said Ricciardo.
“But we’ve kind of seen the opposite this weekend. In the race, when the car is a bit lower on fuel and starts to move around a little bit more, that’s where I’ve still got to dial it in.
“It’s just the feeling and being able to really put the car on that knife edge, I’m not able to do as consistently yet.
“I think having Carlos on me for most of the race and putting pressure on me kind of forced me to in a way overdrive some corners, and I think that allowed me to feel a little more where that edge is.”
Ricciardo was encouraged by the fact he could still achieve a good result both in qualifying and the race on a weekend where he was still not completely on top of the car.
He also felt that his approach was a positive given his improved form boosted confidence, and allowed him to focus on his own efforts rather than being distracted by a large gap to Norris.
“I’ll still look through the data and see where I could improve,” said Ricciardo.
“But through qualifying I had a nice, let’s say, inner confidence in myself. I was pretty comfortable with the car and I didn’t feel the need to be distracted by him [Norris] or the competitors.
“A good weekend from, let’s say, the mindset point of view.”