Daniel Ricciardo still has ambitions to race at the front in the coming years in a competitive car, and his dismissal by McLaren has not deterred him from that.
The 33-year-old signed from Renault at the end of the 2020 season as he tried to climb to the top of the midfield pack, and he was expected to bring about podiums and perhaps race wins alongside Lando Norris.
However, while Norris managed 20 points finishes and four podiums last year, Ricciardo finished in the top 10 on 13 occasions.
He did claim a podium, and it was one of the team’s most crucial in recent memory as the Australian won the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
However, that victory was surrounded by inconsistency, and he was aware that his performances needed to improve heading into this season.
His form has continued to waver this year though and, despite strong displays in Baku and Montreal, Ricciardo has been publicly criticised by McLaren CEO Zak Brown for poor performances in the early part of the season.
The eight-time race winner scored points in just one of the opening seven Sundays of the season, and further disappointing weekends in Silverstone and Hungary have hampered him.
Having initially affirmed that he and the team are keen to see out his deal that runs out at the end of next season, it was decided during the summer break that Ricciardo is to leave at the end of this year.
It was announced ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in the latest bit of driver market news, and quitting a team before the team quits him is a rarity for the 33-year-old.
“It’s certainly not the news I want to share or the outcome I wanted,” Ricciardo told Lawrence Barretto in an interview for Formula1.com.
“It’s like a situation I’ve never found myself in but we tried quite long as a collective try and make this work and get the car in a place I was happy with to get the most out of myself and to find those results consistently week in, week out.
“We kind of got to a point where it felt like it was a bit of a dead end, and we’d kind of exhausted as much as we could.
“There still wasn’t always an understanding of where the pace lay and why I couldn’t extract my potential.
“So yeah, that was the decision that was made to obviously make a change and, yeah, obviously after going through discussions and also trying to remove myself a little bit, I understood that it’s probably best as well for me moving forward.
“It’s been, I would say, just a challenging time, also the on-track stuff, I haven’t been massively stoked with the results, and the feeling I’ve been getting behind the wheel.
“So, there’s just a lot going on and then yeah, obviously you get a summer break and it’s the one time you’re able to switch off and get away from it.
“It’s hard to obviously shake, at least while it’s still fresh, but yeah now, after a bit of time… I knew being in the paddock again would be a bit hectic and intense but I feel like once this now passed I’ll just, in a weird way, probably just feel a little bit lighter and just enjoy the racing, and try and get after it.”
Sebastian Vettel remarked in Thursday’s press conference that Ricciardo is still one of the best in the business, and indicated that McLaren had “failed” to extract their driver’s potential.
This was one of many heart-warming message sent to the 32-time podium finisher by his colleagues, and this helps ease the pain of what he has gone through.
“It does,” said Ricciardo.
“I think, as a driver, you kind of just mature over time and understand that, every driver, we’re all trying to out-do each other, we’re all trying to beat each other ultimately.
“But we all kind of understand that we’ve all had a path, we’ve invested our whole life into this, there’s sacrifice and there’s commitment and , through that, you gain a lot of respect and admiration for each other.
“And, as much as you’re competitors, you’re also kind of admirers in a way, and so to hear that, I guess that support from others is really nice, I certainly appreciate that.”
Ricciardo is aware that Formula 1 is a results business, so confirmed that there are no hard feelings between him and the team.
“I will, and I understand that this sport is also a business, and that’s just how it is,” he explained.
“I just want to race these last nine as best as I can and finish on a high, and know that I left McLaren with a… like it has a good ending.
“It’s probably not going to have the fairy-tale ending that [I wanted] when I signed, but I want to leave on good terms.
“And, I think because we kept dialogue amongst all of us in the team the last few months, we kind of know where we all stand and we’ll probably just enjoy the last nine, try and go racing and get another Monza moment.”
Ultimately, the key difference between McLaren’s current driver pairing is adaptability with a troublesome car.
“It’s probably never just one thing, but obviously Lando’s got on better terms with it,” said Ricciardo.
“But clearly, this has been a place where unfortunately I have struggled more consistently than I guess anywhere else, so it’s probably just a thing of me and this car, which sounds like you’re kind of throwing a blanket over it but, in simple terms, maybe that’s it.”
Speaking on his plans for next season, the former Red Bull and Renault man is still eager to compete at the front of the grid, which he knows he can do.
“I still want to do it,” affirmed a determined Ricciardo.
“This hasn’t broken my spirit or anything like that, I still have love for this sport, and I have love for driving and competing.
“But I think on the competing point, I want to do it competitively, I know the taste of victory, I know the taste of the podium, and that’s what gives me the most happiness.
“To try and set myself up to do that best is what I’ll look for.
“In an ideal world, I’m on the grid in 2023, in a place I feel I can succeed in.
“I think because I still know I can do it, and believe it’s still there for me that I would hate for this to be the way it ends, if you will.
“I think for that reason, I’m still motivated to find a place that I feel like I can compete at the front again, but yeah, I’m not holding onto anything too tight.
“I’ll let what will be, be and see what happens over the course of the next few months.”
Ricciardo is expected to be replaced by Alpine reserve Oscar Piastri next season, with the door potentially open to him at his former Enstone-based team.