RACE DEBRIEF

    2018 Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo endured a difficult race weekend in the Principality, finishing a lap down on his third-placed McLaren team mate Lando Norris in P12. But Ricciardo is also a former winner in Baku – and the Australian is predicting improved fortunes in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after gaining a “much better understanding” of his McLaren MCL35M in the intervening weeks.

    Several theories have emerged as to why Ricciardo – who’s scored 24 points to team mate Norris’ 56 so far this year – has struggled to get on terms with the McLaren, with Team Principal Andreas Seidl suggesting it was down to a “not natural” driving style mismatch, while Ricciardo himself hinted in Monaco that a chassis issue may have been the cause.

    READ MORE: ‘You need a special driving style for our car which is not natural for Ricciardo’ says McLaren boss Seidl

    But speaking ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – a race Ricciardo won with Red Bull in 2017 – he told the media: “The car’s fine, no issues and it’s really trying to adapt my style to work better with the car. Sometimes I’ll do what I think is right, what’s worked for the last few years say, and then it doesn’t quite work well at the moment and then it’s like, why doesn’t it?

    “It becomes frustrating and then you question that it should work. That’s why for the last couple of weeks I took a step back. I didn’t completely restart but started from a step behind and built up to now. I think that helped me to understand a lot better what the car is doing and what we need to achieve with the car, and it’s definitely more clear, and now I’ve got to put that on the track and execute it.

    Daniel Ricciardo 'staying calm about the situation' after Monaco

    “But race cars, they are interesting pieces of machinery,” Ricciardo added. “They always have been, they always will be. I truly believe that this weekend, I’ve come in with a much better understanding of what needs to be done.”

    Asked, meanwhile, if he’d now begun to overthink his issues in the McLaren, and whether that was also contributing to his pace struggles, Ricciardo replied: “Yeah, but that’s like anything in life. Formula 1 is complex, you fall down that rabbit hole and it’s hard to pull yourself out.

    READ MORE: Norris says suggestion that he waved sarcastically to Ricciardo in Monaco is ‘absolute c***’

    “I’m just looking forward to getting back out [on track] and obviously when a weekend doesn’t go right you can’t wait to get back in the car and do better. I’m just looking forward to going racing again.”

    Ricciardo’s struggles in the McLaren have been one of the stories of 2021, especially given the contrast in performance to Norris, who’s taken two podiums and sits third in the drivers’ standings, ahead even of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

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    Norris has taken two podiums this year

    But Ricciardo had a word for any of his fans who’d doubted him in the early part of the season, saying they were welcome to get back on the “Ricciardo Train” whenever they liked…

    “The one person that will get under my skin is myself,” said Ricciardo, when asked whether negative feedback from fans was affecting him. “That’s where I guess emotion comes out for me; I want to believe for myself, for my team and for everyone who supports me and believes in me.

    READ MORE: Sainz says Monaco podium ‘good boost’ for Ferrari – but not expecting repeat in Baku

    “But in saying that, I know that I don’t have any, let’s say, self-doubt; I know inside me what I’m capable of and I know if I was driving with an element of fear or hesitation then I would know that, okay, this sport is not for me anymore. But I know that’s very much not the case.

    “I know it’s just about putting it together now,” he added. “For sure, I’d love to have had it by now or a few races ago but that’s where maybe I lean on my experience in the sport and know that… it’s a marathon not a sprint. And I know in whatever race’s time that, once it clicks and goes right, people will once again be back on the Ricciardo Train. So if you jumped off, it’s okay, it’s still going to go forward... I’ll let you back on!”