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Daniel Ricciardo

Is history doomed to repeat itself for Ricciardo?

For the second time in as many teams, the eight-time F1 race winner finds himself struggling to match a less experienced team-mate. With hopes of reclaiming his previously discarded seat at Red Bull, is the Australian now closer to losing his seat at RB?

Ricciardo Bahrain Test
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

We’ve seen it all before. Daniel Ricciardo paired with a younger driver who has a longer tenure at the team they race for, is already settled in and able to take the fight to their new 'team leader'.

The parallels do not end there. Ricciardo was replaced at McLaren by a fellow Australian in Oscar Piastri. Now, it’s New Zealander Liam Lawson knocking on the side of his RB’s cockpit.

Not quite the same, but you take the point – young blood from the same region hoping to shuffle out the battle-hardened veteran. Not that Ricciardo’s nationality has any bearing on their F1 aspirations.

As fresh details of Ricciardo’s McLaren tenure emerge, the question you have to ask is this: is history doomed to repeat itself for the eight-time grand prix winner?

Damning statistics like the fact Ricciardo has a worse average qualifying delta to Yuki Tsunoda over the first three rounds of the F1 season compared with Nyck de Vries at the same point last year will do nothing to disavow the growing feeling he is racing on borrowed time.

How did we get to this point?

The Australian was once the budding star of the Red Bull family. A driver who came in and beat reigning four-time champion Sebastian Vettel at the first time of trying, paving the way for the German to leave for Ferrari after just one season as team-mates.

But if his stints at McLaren and now RB show anything, it is that sometimes you become the very thing you swore to defeat – or actually did in Ricciardo’s case.

It has not all been bad for 34-year-old after leaving Red Bull for the first time. Despite a relatively slow start to life at Renault, two podiums for the Enstone-based outfit during the Covid-19-shortened 2020 season underwrote his already-confirmed move to McLaren for 2021.

Even when struggling to get to grips at McLaren, that first season with the team was punctuated by his most recent grand prix victory, in Monza, where he led team-mate Lando Norris home for an unlikely one-two.

			© McLaren
	© McLaren

But after the current ground-effect regulations came in, and things failed to improve, the Woking team felt they could no longer wait for Ricciardo and bought him out of this contract a year early.

Destined for a year on the sidelines with Red Bull in 2023, Ricciardo found himself back in a race seat following the unceremonious sacking of AlphaTauri’s De Vries.

But that is where the root of Riccardo’s current issue began. Following his hand-breaking practice crash at Zandvoort – caused by trying to avoid Piastri – Lawson stepped in, impressing immediately.

Whilst Ricciardo did return to the AT04 for the final five rounds, scoring points in Mexico, his substitute had left his mark.

Where does Ricciardo go from here?

Three underwhelming rounds into the current F1 season, including two painfully anonymous drives in Jeddah and Melbourne, Ricciardo is under pressure.

Unverified reports that Red Bull are thinking of putting Lawson back in the car if the Australian does not produce better results has further put him under the spotlight. Whether or not those rumours are accurate does not matter – the narrative is set.

Unless Ricciardo can do something to drastically alter the perception that he is on borrowed time, and for all intents and purposes, he is.

With two disrupted weekends to come in Japan and China, it looks like turning opinion on its head will be all the more difficult. Red Bull junior and Japanese native Ayumu Iwasa will run Ricciardo’s RB in FP1 at Suzuka, and the round in Shanghai is the first sprint weekend of year – with F1 having not raced there since 2019.

The timing and alleged details of the Lawson speculation is convenient, but the symmetry between his current situation and his lacklustre stint at McLaren is not insignificant, either.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

At McLaren, Ricciardo struggled with braking and corner entry, something that became evident upon his return to Red Bull.

Last year, Christian Horner told The New York Times that the Australian’s braking technique “had changed dramatically,” along with him picking a number of “bad habits”.

When speaking on the Beyond the Grid podcast in late 2022, Ricciardo zeroed in on a lack of “feel” and “feedback” at the wheel of the McLarens he raced.

He also highlighted an underlying issue, one separate from car specifics.

“I could honestly just strip it all back and just say it’s confidence,” he said.

“Because I lack that extra bit of feel with the car to put it on the very limit and to know what I’m going to get.”

In the NYT article, Ricciardo himself acknowledged the meagre returns from his time there. "It's not making excuses because those performances weren't good, but it was clear to me that it wasn't me operating at 100%," he said.

"Yes, I should have been able to figure it out, but I just couldn’t.”

And that’s where the trouble lies. It paints the picture of a driver not quite able to adapt, down on confidence, paired with a more malleable team-mate.

Sometimes, having less experience is a benefit, and Norris and Tsunoda’s handling of their cars supports that.

Unfortunately for Ricciardo, unless he can find some way to work it all out and arrest this current downturn in form, failure at RB will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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