Former Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle believes that the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the turning point for Daniel Ricciardo that has ultimately led to the unravelling of his Formula 1 career.
Ricciardo had been involved in an almighty battle with team-mate Verstappen for fifth place, and they spent multiple laps diving down the inside of one another and defending as if their lives depended on it.
As they headed into Turn One though, the Australian found his route down the inside cut off by his team-mate, and they were both sent crashing out of the race, costing Red Bull points.
Ironically, Red Bull were looking for a Safety Car that could allow them a route into the race-winning conversation, but it was their collision that caused the all-important caution period.
Ricciardo indicated that he was made to feel “guilty” for an incident that was not his fault, and this is when Brundle believes the idea was planted in the now 32-year-old’s head that he had to leave.
“That was pivotal, wasn’t it?” he said.
“He could easily have won that year without that sort of unnecessary crash there with Max.
“Perhaps that was the moment when he realised they could only really love one driver and it was going to be Max going forward.
“In a way I’m sure, if you could rewind, he probably would have stayed at Red Bull and made it work — but it’s really hard when you know you’re not the favoured one.”
Ricciardo headed to Renault for the 2019 season, but the French team suffered a dire season as they scored points 18 times between himself and team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, and it was announced after one round of the 2020 season that the Australian would be moving on to McLaren.
However, he has scored points on just 15 occasions in 29 race weekends with the British team, while Norris has managed five podiums in that time.
The 22-year-old has out-qualified Ricciardo 21 times in 29 races, and the three point-scores in the last 12 race weekends have epitomised a move to McLaren that has not worked out for the former Red Bull driver.
Brundle highlighted the Spanish Grand Prix a few weeks ago as “damaging” as Ricciardo finished comfortably behind his team-mate despite Norris suffering from tonsillitis, and the 63-year-old believes that McLaren may part ways with their driver if the situation does not improve by the end of the year.
“He needs to rise, like Barcelona, when Lando was sick, really sick, and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to start the race, he outperformed Daniel big time — it’s those moments that are sort of damaging him,” Brundle explained.
“I don’t think it’s all about Lando. I think Daniel’s not performing at his absolute best.
“I wouldn’t profess to know what’s going on in his head, but I know he’ll be just really disappointed and troubled with the lack of speed at the moment.
“Something is not working, and I think the problem is that McLaren, if Daniel’s qualifying outside the top 10 and racing outside the top 10 and long way behind his teammate, they can’t afford to take that into next season. It’s too critical.
“I think decisions will have to be made in the next few months. This is a very fast-moving business. I don’t think either of them all want to take this kind of form into 2023.”
Brundle takes sympathy with one of the nicest guys on the grid, and emphasises that there is a reason he has taken eight race wins – six of which came from outside the front row, exemplifying his excellent race craft.
“We know he’s a world-class driver — he’s an eight-time winner, 32 times on the podium, as they say, form is temporary and class is permanent,” added the Briton.
“We’re all big fans of his — his race craft, his speed.
“Can he turn it around this weekend? There’s no doubt about it. Monza turned it around for Daniel last year, and a top result somewhere like Baku could just remind everybody how good he is.”
The former McLaren driver is still optimistic that Ricciardo can turn his fortunes around and prove to the Woking-based side that he can be a solid fixture in their team.
“I think he can turn it around, and I’m sure McLaren hope he can and wants him to and believes he can,” stated Brundle.
“Luckily in this business you’re only as good as your last race, and if your last race was a podium or victory, then it cuts both ways.
“As I said, form is temporary, class permanent.”
Ricciardo enters this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix knowing that he desperately needs a strong result having failed to score points in any of the last four races.