Getting off to a slow start at McLaren for the 2021 Formula 1 season, Daniel Ricciardo felt like people had written him off prior to his Italian Grand Prix win.
Early in the 2021 F1 season, the Australian driver stated he did expect some teething issues getting accustomed to McLaren’s MCL35M. Likening it to his previous switch between Red Bull and Renault. However, while Carlos Sainz, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, drivers who had also made the switch to new cars, started to show signs of improvement as the season progressed, Ricciardo was still struggling to find his groove.
Speculation quickly started to form if Ricciardo would ever get to grips with the MCL35M, with what was labelled as a completely different ‘driving style’ required of him to tame the beast. Braking was significantly different to what he was used to, while handling around both slow and long corners was an issue that both he and teammate Lando Norris would have to battle with for much of the year.
However, the summer break provided Ricciardo with a much-needed reset ahead of the second half of the season. He returned revitalised and appeared much more relaxed, more like the Honey Badger we have come to know.
His new outlook for the second half of the season also showed on track, outscoring Norris in the points 65-47, after being demolished by his younger teammate earlier in the year. His speed and confidence seemed to have made a return, culminating in his first win for McLaren and the team’s first since 2012, at the Italian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo says his “never left” radio message after crossing the line at Monza was made as a statement to all those who had written him off for the year.
“I think it’s from a movie where he’s like, ‘I never left, I just moved aside!’ or something, we would joke about that sometimes,” Ricciardo said to Motorsport.com. “But I guess the ‘I never left’ thing, it was part from that. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t planning it.
“I want to say I may have hesitated, because I didn’t want to be like Valtteri [Bottas] where it’s like, ‘to whom it may concern’. I don’t want it to be a sound clip to be like, ‘fuck everyone!’ But I definitely felt like there was a lot of people who had written me off and also that weekend, something was over me. Like, I wasn’t surprised with how the result turned out.
“Even like the fastest lap on the last lap. There was just a lot of stuff that I wanted to just put out there and I was like, I just wanted to make a statement. So in the end, it was ‘I never left’ but the whole weekend, I felt like every day I was making some form of statement to myself at least.”
While Ricciardo continued to experience his ups and downs after Monza, with some solid and not so solid drives, he did make clear progress with the car, as evidenced with his haul of points at the back end of the season.
2022 will be yet another reset year for Ricciardo, as the long awaited new generation of cars are set to take to the grid. With a move away from vast aerodynamics and a heavier focus on ground effects, the McLaren MCL36 will again handle far differently to its predecessor. But unlike 2021, Ricciardo will be in the same boat as the rest of his competitors.