Jenson Button says he was surprised to hear McLaren CEO Zak Brown say publicly that Daniel Ricciardo is not meeting expectations at the Woking outfit.
Having been outscored by teammate Lando Norris last year, Ricciardo has struggled badly in 2022, and has just 11 points to Norris' 48 after the season's first seven Grands Prix.
Ricciardo's woes continued at Monaco, where he finished a lowly 12th after having crashed during practice, while Norris took sixth despite suffering with tonsilitis during the previous week.
Brown recently told Sky Sports F1 that Ricciardo's performances had not met the expectations of either team or driver, prompting Button to declare his surprise at such a public admission.
Button "surprised" at Brown declaration
"Zak is his own man and I can't change his thoughts and what he says, but I was surprised that he came out and said that," Button said on the Sky Sports F1 show Any Given Monday.
"Everyone with the team should be protecting these drivers.
"Formula 1 is a real mental game. They all have immense skill but you don't perform if your head is not in the right place.
"I was surprised Zak came out and said he was not meeting expectations – we all know that. But when your Team Principal comes out and says that, it definitely hurts.
"I'm hoping they have talked since and they can just focus on getting the best out of Daniel and the team around him for the rest of the year. Then we'll see where he ends up in the future."
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Could Ricciardo's contract be terminated early?
Ricciardo has a contract with McLaren for next year, but Brown has hinted at mechanisms which would allow for the deal to be terminated early.
Asked about Ricciardo's immediate future, Button replied: "Daniel came into the team in a very strong position, so the contract is more in his favour, I would say, but there will always be clauses.
"To be fair, if a team doesn't want you driving for them, you don't want to be there – and vice versa. Normally there's an easier way out of it than just the clauses in the contract."
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