“I just want to lead again”: Daniel Ricciardo left ‘fulfilled’ after Monza

“I just want to lead again”: Daniel Ricciardo left ‘fulfilled’ after Monza

Daniel Ricciardo has been left with a feeling of fulfilment after winning for the first time in three years, and breaking McLaren’s drought.

What a year it’s been for McLaren driver, Daniel Ricciardo. The first half of the 2021 Formula 1 season saw the Australian in possibly the worst form of his racing career.

While he was still scoring in the points for the majority of his races, he was left considerably back in the field compared to teammate, Lando Norris. In contrast, Norris has been consistently finishing in the top five, and subsequently sits fourth in the drivers’ standings.

The mid-season break has seen a revival of Ricciardo, however, after a boost in his performance since Spa. The confidence he has received since meshing with the MCL35M has been instrumental in seeing his return to the top level of the sport.

Throughout much of the season, Ricciardo has looked somewhat dejected during interviews and around the paddock. Lacking his normal flair that so often accompanies him. His win at Monza couldn’t have come at a better time for the racer, or for McLaren.

“I feel pretty fulfilled right now,” Ricciardo said. “It’s been a while since I was on the top step. I’m sure a lot of people thought I wouldn’t get back there so that makes this win even sweeter. But for McLaren, it’s been nine years. I thought three years for me was a long time to wait, but McLaren has waited for nine. To contribute to ending that wait, to help put a smile on everyone’s face, that’s what’s made me most happy.”

After spending time as a front-runner at Red Bull, Ricciardo has been left as a midfield contender over the last three years of F1. Renault didn’t quite pan out the way he would have liked, although he did see improvement in year two of his contract, while the first half of the year with McLaren are months that he would like to forget about.

But, showing signs of what is hopefully a resurgence, Ricciardo may now find himself competing more at the pointy end of the spear. McLaren are still several years away from seriously competing with Mercedes and Red Bull, but they have proven that given the right track and conditions, they can mix it up with the best of them.

“I loved being back up there at the weekend,” he continued “I loved having the chance to fight, getting up to third in the Sprint. I loved that. I love being back to where I believe I can be. Some might say, “Yeah, but what about the pressure of being at the front?” But that’s the place I’m most comfortable. That’s the place I love.

“On Sunday, all I wanted to do was lead into Turn One. I was like, “I just want to lead again. I just want to be the target.” And I did that. I remember getting out of the first chicane, Turn Two and I was like, “Imagine everyone’s face right now in the pit, imagine the team in the garage. They must be pumped.” And then that quickly turned into, “I don’t want to let this go now. I’m leading!”

“I was like, “Unless we’re really slow, I’m gonna make this as hard as I can for anyone who’s got something for me today.” But, I was never really in doubt. Except around the pit stops. I thought if someone’s got a lot more pace, they’ll undercut or overcut or whatever. But other than that, on track, I was very convinced we were going to hold onto first place.”

The new rebuilt McLaren team is one that appears to be more like a family than work colleagues. They are a close-knit unit, often putting the needs of the team ahead of individual wants or needs, at least for the time being anyway.

Since scoring a one-two finish at the Italian Grand Prix, one thing has remained consistent across all interviews from both Ricciardo and Norris, CEO Zak Brown and Team Principal Andreas Seidl, everyone at Woking is smiling.

After a lot of tough years at the McLaren Technology Centre, the last three have shown a steady rise in performance for the team. From third place podiums, to second, and now first. They are moving back in the right direction, back to where they belong in the sport.

“It feels awesome to end the drought for the team, especially after the year I’ve had,” said Ricciardo. “And, obviously, I’m glad I was the guy to get the win. That’s just the competitor in me. You want to be the guy that everyone’s patting on the back and it certainly hadn’t been me for the majority of this year. So, to then just tick that big box, that felt really nice.

“When I look back at it though, the win was insane but just as insane was the one-two; seeing Lando there, knowing that the whole team is going to be stoked. It’s not like one car won and the other car crashed, leaving the team with mixed emotions. I knew everyone was just gonna be freakin’ pumped.

“Obviously, I knew Lando was second but when I saw him there in parc fermé, alongside me, it felt so good. We gave each other a hug and I think all I said to him was, “Did we just get a one-two?!” I think that’s what I said. I remember hitting him on the helmet and was like, “The team must be so happy right now.”