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Zak Brown on Ricciardo: Can't make driver decisions based on friendships

A couple of months on from the Oscar Piastri controversy, McLaren CEO Zak Brown highlights the main reasons why the team elected to drop Daniel Ricciardo in favour of the 21 year-old rookie.

If you told McLaren fans after the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix they would not see their team win for another nine years, you rightly would have been laughed at. At that stage the team was still challenging for F1 World Championships but after a winless 2013 season, a difficult start to the hybrid era in 2014 and subsequently a tough partnership with Honda, it wasn't until the 2021 Italian Grand Prix that Daniel Ricciardo broke the win drought. It was the eighth career win for the Australian in 11 years of competing in F1. But now he will leave McLaren a year earlier than his contract specified, after both parties agreed to sever ties to enable Oscar Piastri to race for the team in 2023. Speaking exclusively to Speedcafe and RacingNews365.com in Bathurst, McLaren CEO Zak Brown says he will be miss Ricciardo and believes that he adds a lot of value to F1. "I think like everyone bummed he won't be on the grid, because he's great for the sport and he wants to race," said Brown. Brown recruited Ricciardo from main rivals Renault (now Alpine) to race alongside Lando Norris in 2021 as he was a proven podium finisher, race winner, and championship challenger. The team is on the up, but Ricciardo's complications getting used to the MCL35M’s particular setup requirements meant those results never really materialised as consistently as Norris. On whether the Australian would've moved to another team further down the grid, Brown speculates that Ricciardo was looking for something that suits his pedigree. "He probably could have driven for Williams or Haas is my guess," Brown explained. "I’m speculating that he doesn't want to drive for a team that's ninth or 10th in the championship, which I understand, given his pedigree. But hopefully he’ll come back in 2024."

Brown: Can't make driver decisions on 'who is a mate and who's not a mate'

After a tough start to the 2022 campaign, it wasn't until the Monaco Grand Prix that Brown started to hint that the results were not really what he hoped from Ricciardo. Unless they improved, they would start to look at other options. Brown has previously admitted that the decision to go with Piastri for 2023 is purely "performance-based.” Even though Ricciardo and Brown share a close friendship, the cut-throat world of F1 demands that changes must be done in the best interests of a team’s results on track. "You’ve got to deal with this in the way that you think is in the best interests of the team," explained Brown. "It wasn't an easy decision, it wasn't a overnight decision, it was something that we spoke with him about for many months. "Because ultimately, I don't think either of us got the results that we'd hoped and we felt we'd given it sufficient time [on] both sides. "Then we came to the conclusion that for whatever reason, it wasn't working, and that we needed to make a change - which was very difficult. "As a mate, he's great guy. But at the end of the day, we can't make decisions based on who's a mate and who's not mate."

Ricciardo spoke to Piastri following contract situation

With his position set to be filled by 21 year-old and fellow compatriot Piastri, who has never made an F1 race weekend debut, you would think that the often boisterous Ricciardo would have made more of a public outburst of the awkward situation. But through it all he's acted professionally and understood the team’s position. Brown says that maturity is what he saw in Ricciardo "from day one" and reveals that he spoke to Piastri in the wake of the contract controversy. "He’s been awesome. From day one to today, the way he's conducted himself; the maturity that he's shown in our conversations; the way he's handled the media and the team relationship; he's never once placed blame [on the team], which I think a lot of drivers would do. "You've just got to recognise that it wasn't working and [Ricciardo] respected our desire to make a change. "I will cheer for him today in the last four races as much as much as ever, because we need him and Lando to deliver in the close fight for fourth [in Constructors' Championship]. "It's great he spoke with with Oscar and I think he's very mature, understands the situation, and handled it really well."

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