The struggles of Daniel Ricciardo have become a mystery. He was set to pave the way for McLaren and lead the team towards podiums and victories.
Instead, the seven-time Grand Prix winner has struggled to make the final part of qualifying and to execute laps within a few tenths of teammate Lando Norris.
There was one weekend when Ricciardo had the beating of Norris, at the Spanish Grand Prix, where some thought he had the performance he needed to kickstart his season.
It didn't pan out that way, though, as he failed to qualify in the top 10 for five of the next seven events. In contrast, Norris has made Q3 at every round this year with regular appearances on the third row of the grid.
What's going wrong for Daniel Ricciardo?
Norris has been in remarkable form with only Max Verstappen arguably performing better than he has out of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid. The British driver says he has been very open with Ricciardo, sharing data, and can't do much more to help.
"I don't know where else I can help," Norris told RacingNews365.com and other select members of the press. "I tell him what I'm feeling, he has all my data, he can see everything that I'm doing, I describe things very well I think in the debriefs. I'm not going to lie.
"But it's not up to me at the end of the day. Obviously, I want him to do well, because we need that for the championship and we want to beat Ferrari and he needs to do well.
"There's only so much I can do to help him. He's a different driver at the end of the day. Every driver drives differently to everyone else in the world, and what he feels is different to me and what I feel is different to him."
Ricciardo is ostensibly slower in every department, particularly on corner entry. He does not have the confidence to keep a high minimum speed in the corners, compared to Norris, which is also costing him time on the exits of the corners.
The less speed you carry out of a corner, the more time you will lose on the next straight. It's an endless cycle. We are talking about hundredths of a second here, but losing half a tenth in one corner adds up over a lap, which is why Ricciardo is generally slower than Norris in every sector.
Can Daniel Ricciardo improve his form?
Ricciardo faces a big challenge to turn things around. The mental toll due to his lack of form is definitely getting to him and he will almost certainly be confused about why he cannot get more out of the car.
From what he can extract, Ricciardo appears to have reached the limit of the car, which is not a good sign. At every type of circuit and every type of corner, he is slower than Norris.
Every driver has gone through a difficult phase, but they usually show glimpses of their best form, which Ricciardo has not been able to do. The 32-year-old has never been in this situation and he has not been able to react to it well through his driving.
All it takes is one great race to get you back on track, but Ricciardo seems lost.
Being versatile and getting the most out of your car is a key aspect for any racing driver. This is best seen in wet conditions, an area where Ricciardo has not shone compared to some of his rivals.
Sebastian Vettel thrived on confidence and Ricciardo could be similar in that respect. Ricciardo revealed McLaren have swapped his chassis with Norris this year, but did not say when.
"I think we've done one swap this year, or like one change," Ricciardo told RacingNews365.com and other select members of the press when asked about the possibility of a chassis change.
"I don't want to say when it was because it'll create headlines! I think I know when we swapped! Maybe then for the second half the season, we could, just for peace of mind, swap again."
The saving grace for Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo signed a three-year deal with McLaren which takes him to the end of 2023. Something that could save his F1 career are the new technical regulations that will come into force next year.
A completely different driving style will be needed for the slower cars which are set to bring closer racing with the potential to shake up the pecking order.
If Ricciardo does not improve this season, he will have to bank on getting up to speed and enjoying the new specification of F1 car in what could be a make or break year.
Everything is set to change on next year's cars compared to the current machines, including the larger 18-inch tyres.
Does Daniel Ricciardo need to be replaced?
The F1 world moves very quickly and if you don't perform, you can find yourself out of the sport in a matter of months. McLaren have paid big money for Ricciardo and have backed him at every race this season.
At some point, they will run out of patience if things do not improve. Contingency plans for 2023 will already be in motion behind closed doors, at every team not just McLaren, so options will not be too far away if Ricciardo is unable to get on terms with Norris.
F1's new technical regulations give Ricciardo some breathing room, as does his remarkable career before this year when he was rated as one of the best drivers in the sport.
But, you can only rely on your past success for so long because in F1 you need to deliver every weekend, especially if you're in a team which wants to be fighting for world titles.
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