When Daniel Ricciardo overtook two-time F1 Drivers’ Champion Fernando Alonso down the main straight into Turn 1 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, his race engineer told him ‘Nicely done Daniel nicely done’. After a tough 2021 season, where the much-loved Aussie has so far been outshone by his teammate Lando Norris, to see Ricciardo cross the line in 9th, having started in 13th put a smile on the face of many a fan of the Honey Badger. With the French Grand Prix next up on the calendar, it may well be a case of lucky number 7 for Ricciardo having had six races to build up his confidence in his McLaren MCL35M.
At the conclusion of the 2021 Monaco GP, Daniel Ricciardo was already predicting his form would turn around as a result of gaining a “much better understanding” of his car from the hours put in at the factory. However, Ricciardo was also quick to point out that he is his harshest critic, as shown in his comments to F1.com:
“The one person that will get under my skin is myself,” said Ricciardo. “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. 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,”
However, Daniel Ricciardo certainly made life challenging for himself as a result of crashing out in Q2 due to outbraking himself going into Turn 3 and ending up in the barrier. Following this unusual error, from the 2017 victor of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a 13th place on the grid would come the way of the Honey badger having made the error due to uncertainty of the limits of his MCL35M:
“I don’t feel that great, but it happens, it’s a street circuit,” he said. “I knew there was some time to find, and just tried to get it in the braking. I think in the braking point there was some margin and I tried to take it. But as soon as I turned it started to lock and once you lock here you’ve got no room for escape. That was obviously frustrating but still trying to find the limits. Got a bit more work to do tomorrow, but hopefully the car is not in too bad a place and the guys don’t have a crazy late night [fixing the car].” Ricciardo told F1.com
However, as every F1 racer knows, the points are given out on Sunday and Daniel Ricciardo made his intention clear to the media:
“We’ll just have our eyes forward tomorrow and make a good race of it. If you have a quick race car you can overtake, you can do some things, so ready to put on a fight tomorrow.”
Following a combination of tyre management, early overtakes, benefitting from Max Verstappen’s DNF and Lewis Hamilton’s uncharacteristic (widely reported) brake magic error, Daniel Ricciardo found himself 9th as the chequered flag fell. Having started in 13th and crossed the line just over a second behind 8th place finisher Carlos Sainz there is reason for optimism moving forward.
The congested field at the end of a frenetic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in the closing stages at least, came about through the most unexpected red flag with the end of the race so near. As a result of safety concerns over tyres following a second trye blow out of the race with Max Verstappen being consigned to the barrier to join previous casualty Lance Stroll, teams were able to change their tyres ready for a two lap shootout.
Speaking to the team’s official website mclaren.com Daniel Ricciardo reflected on how a somewhat processional race came to life:
"There were moments today in the race where I was thinking ‘I hope it becomes a bit more exciting’ and suddenly it did! We had some positive moments, but also a few difficult periods. I flat-spotted the Hard a bit, so that became tricky for the last few laps before the red flag, but not too bad beforehand.”
Despite not fully reaping the benefit of his pace in Azerbaijan, the much-loved Aussie’s next comments are certain to fill many a Daniel Ricciardo fan with confidence for the French Grand Prix:
“The last start, I felt like I got a good launch, and had a good run on the outside but there wasn’t really much room with a couple of cars on the inside. It just all bottlenecked into Turn Two and I felt a hit from behind. I couldn’t really do much, but we’ll keep working on our plan and keep moving forward.”
Daniel Ricciardo may have found himself even higher up the finishing classification table had the FIA upheld McLaren’s protest. The team radio played out on the broadcast revealed the team’s complaint that Yuki Tsunoda did not slow down under waved double yellow flags prior to the red flag. However, the FIA said that the whole grid did that so there would be no penalty for anyone.
In a press conference with select media, including motorlat.com, McLaren’s Team Principal Andreas Seidl made clear his disagreement at such a sweeping statement from the FIA:
“I think it’s clear what you have to do as a driver when you go through a double yellow flag and you go through the incident and you see the car on track. From our point of view things were happening there today that were clearly not ok also putting it into the context of what we got a penalty for yesterday, but again that’s all we can do we can only report it. If the Race Director thinks there is no investigation required because everyone is doing it which is something we strongly disagree with you need to ask Michael Masi.”
Disagree they may but a 9th place finish for Daniel Ricciardo is how it remains. Nevertheless, the sight of a quick launching, late braking Ricciardo producing a fastest lap of 1:45.713 compared to his teammate Lando Norris’ 1:45.326 shows that the much-loved Aussie is building his confidence behind the wheel of his papaya beast. Having seen his teammate cross the line in 5th (after starting 9th) Ricciardo no doubt appreciated that there is still more development needed but the gap has certainly narrowed and that bodes well for the rest of the season.
A weekend that was wrapped in sadness, following the news of McLaren’s long-term friend and supporter Mansour Ojjeh passing away at the age of 68, concluded with a race worthy of the great man.
Mansour Ojjeh’s name is probably being heard wider, following his passing, such was the modesty and understated nature man. Nevertheless, there is no understating the impact he had on F1 in the past 40 years. Tribute was paid to him and Max Mosley, the former President of motorsport's world governing body, FIA, with a minute of silence before the race. Daniel Ricciardo was quick to pay tribute to Mansour both on Instagram with a touching photo of a past gathering and in his closing comments to the media:
"I also just want to pay tribute to Mansour and send my condolences to Kathy and his entire family. He made a massive contribution to both McLaren and the entire sport, and he will be greatly missed."
Daniel Ricciardo may have made ‘Well done Baku’ a viral meme but after Sunday’s news and irrespective of all the on-track drama, the closing line can only be - well done Mansour!