Daniel Ricciardo says he wouldn’t consider not winning a world title with McLaren as a ‘failure’, as he looks to enjoy his time in F1.
Daniel Ricciardo has long been considered as one of the premier race drivers in Formula 1. Many would have expected him to have at least one Drivers’ Championship under his belt by now. But like many other great F1 drivers before him, the coveted title has eluded the Australian so far.
Wrong team at the wrong time, bad luck and other racing factors can be blamed. But ultimately, the best driver on the grid, more often than not with the best car, will be the one to win the championship in any given year.
The last few years haven’t really provided Ricciardo with the opportunity to compete at the front of the pack either. The switch from Red Bull to Renault was never going to provide him with any real chance to compete. While even his last couple of years at Red Bull saw him languishing down in fifth and sixth in the standings. Not exactly prime position to be winning a championship.
His move to McLaren got off to a slow start for someone who was known as one of the fastest on the grid, and the last of the ‘late breakers’. Largely blamed on his inability to get accustomed to the MCL35M. However, returning after the summer break showed a revitalised Ricciardo with a much-needed improvement in performance.
The win at the Italian Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s first since 2018, couldn’t have come at a better time, with his confidence in the car and his abilities on the rise.
“It was needed, no doubt about it,” Ricciardo said on the Beyond The Grid Podcast about his win. “You don’t really lose faith in yourself, because you know what you’re capable of, but if you haven’t done it for a while, then of course it’s like ‘Am I not 100% in this corner, am I at 98 now and I don’t even know it?’ So you get these little voices.
“But I think the truth is, I knew it when I led – I got the start and as soon as I pulled out of the first chicane in the lead, I literally remember going out and I had a smile and I said, ‘The pit crew right now must be going nuts, we’re leading.’
“But I felt comfortable, and that was all I needed. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is not overwhelming for me, this isn’t a forgotten feeling.’ In my head, I’m telling myself, ‘This is where I belong, this is where I want to be.’ And I really drove that race with a comfort and a calmness. At times I was singing to myself, I was tapping the wheel, I was just enjoying it. And I wanted to enjoy it.”
While Ricciardo’s form has noticeably improved during the second half of the 2021 F1 season, he is still not quite there in terms of consistency. His performance is very much dependent on the type of track. The same can be said about the MCL35M which has continued to struggle on circuits with tight slow corners or long bends.
Whether his days of contending for the title are long gone though is still a question that is up in the air. 2022 will provide him with an entirely new car when compared to the MCL35M. With vastly different handling and performance characteristics.
With McLaren on an upwards trajectory, it isn’t unconceivable that Ricciardo could find himself battling it out at the front over the next couple of years. The main factors will be his obvious ability in the new car, with a need to come to grips with it much faster than he has done in 2021. And McLaren delivering a car that is consistent enough to challenge the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull.
But while winning a championship is every race drivers dream, Ricciardo says his mentality has shifted somewhat towards it. Come the end of his time with McLaren, if he hasn’t won a world title, he wouldn’t consider it a failure.
“Say I’m at McLaren for five years, and we don’t get a title, I don’t want to look back on the five years as a failure,” Ricciardo continued. “Because then it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s five years of my life that I’m just flushing down the toilet’. Five years of your life is a lot of time.
“That’s maybe the mindset switch that I’ve made. Don’t get me wrong, it has not made me any softer or less driven or less motivated. But I want to enjoy my time here in the sport. The goal is to be world champion, and I think that is why I will wake up every morning with the desire to do this. But I don’t want that to dictate my whole happiness.
“I’ve been doing this 10 years. I’m not world champion yet, so there’s no guarantee it will happen. I just don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and then be miserable for the rest of my life because I haven’t done it.
“Winning in Monza was probably all I needed to give me all the happiness in 2021. That also proved that you can get so much from not just the world title.”