McLaren F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo has opened up on the “tough love” he received while at Red Bull, and discusses how this differs from his current treatment at his new team.
Ricciardo joined the Red Bull programme at the age of 18, and was given his first shot in Formula 1 with HRT in 2011, debuting at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Following some impressive performances in the least competitive car on the grid, he was awarded a full-time seat at Red Bull’s junior team – the then-named Scuderia Toro Rosso.
He spent two years with the Italian outfit alongside Jean Eric Vergne, before Mark Webber’s departure from the main outfit opened the door for Ricciardo to join Red Bull.
He won three races in 2014 en route to a third-placed finish in the Drivers’ Championship.
The Australian out-qualified Sebastian Vettel – who had just won four straight titles prior to 2014 – 11-8 over the course of the 19 races, confirming his place among the sport’s big hitters.
The 32-year-old would go on to win another four races for the Milton Keynes-based outfit between 2015 and 2018.
However, he was never in a position to challenge for titles and, with Max Verstappen growing strong and the Aussie feeling that Red Bull were favouring him, he made the switch to Renault ahead of the 2019 season.
He suffered two frustrating seasons with the French team, although he did score two podiums in 2020.
Ricciardo made the decision to move to McLaren for the start of the 2021 season, partnering Lando Norris, but he endured a tough year.
He was out-qualified 15-7 by Norris, scoring points on 13 occasions, and only once in the final five grand prix of the year.
However, he did claim McLaren’s first victory since 2012 at the Italian Grand Prix, leading the team’s first 1-2 finish since the Canadian Grand Prix of 2010.
Asked if he feels happier now than he did at Red Bull, despite his struggles last year, Ricciardo had no doubt in his mind.
“Yeah, I do,” he replied.
“That’s where the first half of the season was probably even more frustrating because I really do like the environment, and I have good relationships with the team.”
The Australian maintains that his pace was the only thing that at times let him down, but he is pleased with his progress everywhere else across the board.
“Everything other than the stopwatch was pretty good, but obviously, I just wasn’t giving them what I wanted to obviously,” Ricciardo conceded.
“That was in a way, tough. But moments like Monza, even Austin, Austin was a good weekend for me.
“These weekends are so much cooler because I really do get on with the team, I like their way about racing, I like the support that I’ve had as well,” the McLaren driver added.
Ricciardo went on to speak about his relationship with Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko during his time as part of their programme, insisting that his occasionally harsh approach helped his personal development.
“Helmut is a guy which, through my junior career, there was a lot of tough love, and I think that was really good for me because it made me grow up quicker.”
However, he prefers the soft, friendly approach that McLaren have adopted.
“Here, the first half of the season in particular, there was a lot of support and they weren’t trying to kick me down or put me down when I was already down, they were trying to bring me up,” Ricciardo explained.
While he does not need an arm around his shoulder, the 32-year-old is a fan of the family approach.
“I’m not saying I want to be coddled all the time, but I think their way about dealing with it and going about it and not overwhelming me was really nice, and I feel that.
“I feel that with the team. There is a lot of family-style support,” he added.
Ricciardo’s eight race wins have not yet yielded a title, but performance coach Michael Italiano is still confident that his long-time friend and client can achieve this before his career finishes.
“A world title one day is 100 percent the goal – it’s always been the goal from day one,” he affirmed.
“I have full belief that he’s good enough for a world championship, and he’s got full belief that he’s the best. If the car is good enough, he’ll make it happen.”
Italiano spoke candidly about Ricciardo’s departure from Renault, saying: “I can only speak for myself – do I think it was a good move? Yes, I do. No offence to Renault of course, but I really see the belief that this team has.”
While Italiano was not involved in the final decision to switch to McLaren – who finished fourth in the Constructors’ Standings in 2021 – he is glad Ricciardo made the call.
“Daniel made the decision, I wasn’t involved,” he emphasised.
“I’m obviously just here to prepare him, and so far my dealings with McLaren have been nothing but positive. It’s easy for me to say I think he’s made the right call.”
Commenting on Ricciardo’s victory at Monza, Italiano saw this success as vindication of the move away from Renault to Mercedes-powered McLaren.
“Getting that win also was a great way to say: ‘Cool, this is why I joined, because I wanted a car that has the potential to win’,” he explained.
Ricciardo finished eighth in the 2021 Drivers’ Championship, while team-mate Norris ended the year sixth.