When McLaren first announced in 2020 that Daniel Ricciardo would be joining them to fill the seat that would be vacated by Carlos Sainz Jnr for 2021, it seemed like the perfect match.
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McLaren were gaining an established grand prix winner with nine-and-a-half seasons of experience who had brought Renault back onto the podium multiple times during 2020. Alongside the highly promising talent Lando Norris, it would be hard to blame McLaren CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl for feeling very encouraged for the team's future.
But whatever McLaren, Ricciardo or the team's legions of fans expected from having the Australian join the team, it would not have been a pattern of consistently underwhelming results and a total points difference of 102 between Norris and Ricciardo scored over 35 races together so far.
With Formula 1 resting over the summer, rumours and reports indicate that McLaren are now actively looking to escape from their contractual commitment with Ricciardo for 2023 – with Oscar Piastri's dispute with Alpine not unrelated to the situation at McLaren.
But would McLaren be correct to drop Ricciardo – one of the most successful drivers of his generation – just half way through their three season agreement with him?
Certainly since Formula 1 entered the 21st Century, it's hard to think of a driver signing that has been as underwhelming as Daniel Ricciardo joining McLaren – especially given what Ricciardo had previously achieved at Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Renault prior to joining Woking.
Rather than being the elder, experienced leader among the team's two drivers, Ricciardo has regularly been made to look like a rookie in comparison to Norris – a driver who is literally two-thirds his age. In their time sharing the garage together, Norris has secured five podium finishes, while Ricciardo only has a single one to his name.
Ricciardo's difficult first season with McLaren was excused for the difficulty in adapting to a new car for 2021, which was largely an evolution of the 2020 car. Many other drivers who switched teams last season also struggled relative to their team mates.
But 2022 was supposed to be a reset for Ricciardo and allow him to begin afresh – yet his deficit to Norris is now greater than it ever has been. With McLaren locked in a battle with Alpine for fourth in the constructors' championship, they cannot afford to be reliant on Norris alone to take the fight to Alpine when both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon are delivering regular points finishes.
That Ricciardo's struggles have continued in 2022 is the most worrying sign for McLaren. With no explanation for why he appears unable to perform at his best, there's nothing to suggest anything will magically change in year three. Making the call to part ways now and go a different direction for next season is the tough decision, but could be the best for the team long-term.
Daniel Ricciardo's performances with McLaren thus far may have been underwhelming, but that does not necessarily mean that to give up on him now would be the best solution to his struggles.
On occasion, he has shown that he is capable of running with Norris in races this season and even been faster at points, only for team orders to have come into play. His performances at his home grand prix in Australia and in Azerbaijan are evidence that he is clearly capable of matching Norris on track when he gets on top of the car.
Also, the idea of replacing Ricciardo with one of the many alternative driving talents currently attached to McLaren may seem appealing, but it's also a risk in itself. Offering the seat to any of the IndyCar drivers to have tested with the team or signed to development contracts with them would be to take a bold gamble that has often failed to pay off in history, while Oscar Piastri is still a rookie and comes with unknowns, despite his glittering junior career
Finally, there's also the demonstrable factor that Ricciardo has clearly not lost his race-winning abilities. After taking seven career wins at Red Bull during his five seasons with the team, Ricciardo was a proven race winner. The one and only time he has come close to a sniff of a victory during his time in papaya – back in Monza last year – Ricciardo delivered McLaren's first win in almost a decade, beating Norris in the process.
It might be hard to see what could be changed to help bring Ricciardo back to his best once more, but if the magic solution can be found, McLaren could very well unlock the driver they hoped to have when they first signed him. By giving up on him now, they will lose the chance of ever doing so.
In many professional sport environments, there are plenty of examples of teams falling for the so-called 'sunk-cost fallacy' – the idea that it's better to stick with a decision rather than change course due to the high level of investment put into it. By contemplating replacing Ricciardo, McLaren clearly are trying to avoid making such a mistake themselves.
If they did, they would be entirely justified to do so.
Ricciardo's achievements through his career so far have proven that he is a more than formidable driver. Rather than simply win easy races in a superior car, almost all of his grand prix victories have been hard-fought battles in a car that was not the class of the field. You do not do that if you are fundamentally lacking elite talents as a driver in Formula 1.
However, Ricciardo's performances at McLaren have largely failed to live up to any reasonable expectations his team or anyone in the paddock could have had for him since joining the team. His first season could be generously excused given the circumstances of the year, but the fact that his woes have continued into season two – and that the chasm to Norris in the standings has only gotten wider – means that McLaren are entirely within their rights to not only question their commitment to him for a third season, but actively look for another direction to go with.
These difficult two years do not necessarily mean that Ricciardo is 'washed' or has somehow lost his edge or potency as a racer and it would not be shocking to see him move elsewhere and begin to demonstrate his skills once again. However, it is simply a matter that McLaren have invested a lot of effort, time and money to get the great Daniel Ricciardo they had seen for many years in their team and he has simply failed to provide them a worthwhile return on the track.
Do you agree that McLaren should drop Daniel Ricciardo for the 2023 Formula 1 season?
- Strongly agree (37%)
- Slightly agree (33%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (9%)
- Slightly disagree (10%)
- Strongly disagree (10%)
- No opinion (1%)
Total Voters: 216
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