High expectations hurt Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo

High expectations have increased the spotlight under which Daniel Ricciardo has found himself in the first half of the 2021 Formula 1 season.

Speaking exclusively with Speedcafe.com, Ricciardo has revealed that while he’s far from satisfied with the level he’s performing at, some of the disappointment is a result of high expectations.

The Australian was a high-profile recruit for McLaren as replacement for the Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz, but has found himself playing second fiddle to Lando Norris.

A seven-time grand prix winner during his time with Red Bull, Ricciardo’s best result from the 10 races so far this season is a fifth last time out in Silverstone.

Both he and the team have preached patience as the 32-year-old acclimatises to the McLaren MCL35M and his new environment.

However, with the likes of Sainz having already recorded podium finishes at their new teams, it’s put Ricciardo in particular under the spotlight.

“Especially after last year, I had obviously a really strong season with Renault and I came into this year personally with a lot of momentum, and the team had a lot of momentum finishing third in the constructors,” he explained.

“So I guess, yeah, the expectation in your mind is like we’re going to be awesome and hit the ground running and all that sort of stuff.”

Ricciardo’s start with McLaren at the Bahrain Grand Prix was promising after he qualified sixth, one place up on Norris.

He then sustained damage on the opening lap after being tagged by Pierre Gasly, but even still was able to record a solid seventh on debut.

Next time out things were equally solid, with a sixth in qualifying for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola preceding a mature drive in tricky conditions to finish sixth.

However, a stellar performance from Norris saw the 21-year-old narrowly miss out on the front row before he raced his way onto the podium.

It was at that point at which eyebrows were first raised, not helped by a tough weekend in Portugal next time out.

In Monaco he slumped to 12th, his first non-points paying finish with McLaren, and the first time he’d finished out of the top 10 since the previous year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

More latterly, performances have begun to improve.

Ricciardo has spent time in the simulator at the McLaren Technology Centre, working to try different set-up options to bring the car closer to his liking, while simultaneously adapting his own driving style to the car.

“I guess the car, although it can be quick, it’s a bit of a different beast to drive,” Ricciardo said, reiterating the explanation he’s given throughout the season.

“It’s something which is just taken me longer to get my head around.

“I guess, in the past, like my strengths with maybe the style I use isn’t quite translating with this car, so I’m having to still try to exploit other areas.

“And I guess for now, they’re probably just some weaknesses in mind that I need to try now and pick up.”

Ricciardo sits eighth in the drivers’ standings on 50 points, a result which leaves him only marginally behind where he was at the same point in the 2020 season.

By this stage a year ago he’d amassed 62 points, highlighted by fourth places at the British and Tuscan Grands Prix respectively.

After 10 races in 2019 he’d scored just 22 points, though both last year’s Renault and this year’s McLaren are far more competitive packages that the R.S.19 was.

The 2021 Formula 1 season continues next weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix, an event Ricciardo won in 2014.

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