Daniel Ricciardo will be hoping for a strong second half to the F1 season. (Photo: McLaren F1/Twitter)

Aussie Daniel Ricciardo has had an up and down debut season so far with McLaren, where he has struggled to produce the results many expected.

The Formula One season is currently on a four-week summer break, following the first 11 Grand Prixs of the season.

The Inner Sanctum takes a look at how our fellow Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo has fared so far this season.

How 2021 has played out

2021 saw Daniel Ricciardo join his third team in four years, now behind the wheel at McLaren.

A seasoned veteran now in his 11th F1 season, there were high hopes for what Ricciardo could bring to McLaren after a strong 2020 with Renault where he finished fifth in the Driver Standings.

While McLaren finds itself in a strong position at the summer break, this has been due in large part to Ricciardo’s teammate Lando Norris, who has outperformed him all season long.

Norris currently sits on 113 points in third in the Driver Standings compared to Ricciardo, who has only scored 50 and sits in ninth.

Ricciardo’s season got off to a promising start, scoring in the points in his first four races and collected two top six finishes. Since then however, Ricciardo has had mixed results and been unable to showcase the driving skill he exhibited previously at Red Bull and Renault.

Ricciardo has shown flashes of the driver we all expect him to be. In France he was aggressive and climbed up the grid from 10th to seventh in the first 15 laps, and in Austria came from 13th to finish seventh to defeat many of his rivals.  

Even Ricciardo himself has admitted he has struggled at points this season, but has vowed to keep working, with the hope that the results start to show.

Results so far

Bahrain Grand Prix7th
Emilia Romanga Grand Prix6th
Portuguese Grand Prix9th
Spanish Grand Prix6th
Monaco Grand Prix12th
Azerbaijan Grand Prix9th
French Grand Prix6th
Styria Grand Prix13th
Austrian Grand Prix7th
British Grand Prix5th
Hungarian Grand Prix11th

What has worked

While Ricciardo has not had the season many would have expected up until this point, there are still a few positives to take out from the first 11 races.

He has shown a strong ability to be able to defend and maintain his position on the grid, having finished in a lower position from where he started a race only once this season.

Therefore, Ricciardo has been able to consistently finish in the points, having only missed the opportunity three times.

This is combined with the fact that Ricciardo has shown incredible durability, having completed 27 races in a row. Therefore, if Ricciardo qualifies in a strong position, McLaren can be confident that he will at the very least be able to maintain that position and be expected to finish the race.

Ricciardo has also shown signs of improvement and that he is becoming more comfortable with the car, as was the case with the Styrian and Austrian Grand Prix.

Both races took place on the same circuit, yet Ricciardo has able to put the disappointing result of the week prior where he had his worst finish of the year in 13th to come out a week later and finish seventh.  

He also performed strongly in his last four races, even at the Hungarian Grand Prix where he was extremely unlucky.

In the chaos of the crash on the first turn, Ricciardo appeared to have avoided any damage, taking the outside line and looked as though he would move into second. He was clipped at the last second, spinning him out and comprising his race.

Where to improve

While Ricciardo has shown durability and can be relied upon to maintain his position on the grid, these standards are not good enough for someone of his talent.

What he has done well so far this season is a double-edged sword. Too often Ricciardo appears content with just maintaining his position rather than pushing and staying aggressive to move up the grid.

This has been made increasingly more apparent with the success of Norris, who has qualified extremely well all season long and in races been able to climb the grid. With both Ricciardo and Norris having the exact same car, there are few excuses for the disparity in results.

Ricciardo has only finished in a better position than Norris twice this season, at Silverstone and at Hungary where Norris retired. This is simply not good enough as entering the season, the expectation was Ricciardo was the better driver and would be the one leading the team.

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Ricciardo has shown signs of struggling in the past when joining a team as was the case with Renault. In his debut season in 2019 he only managed 54 points, however flipped it around with a superb 2020 campaign. Most would be hoping that Ricciardo will do similar with McLaren, but merely hoping for the same result is risky.

Ricciardo needs to start producing now. He has had half the year to get used to the McLaren car and team, so it is now time to come back from the break and produce strong results. In comparison to last season after 11 races, Ricciardo was 28 points better than he is currently.

For McLaren CEO Zak Brown, he was even surprised at how much Ricciardo had struggled with adapting to McLaren’s car when speaking ahead of the British Grand Prix.

“I think we are surprised, he’s surprised that he’s not nearer Lando’s pace… but the good news is everyone’s working very hard, everyone knows where we need to improve,” said Brown via Reuters.

“Daniel knows where he needs to improve, so there’s no excuses, just hard work ahead of us and I hope he gets on top of it because we need two cars constantly in the front if we’re going to hold onto third in the championship.”

Outlook for rest of season

Heading into the second half of the season and final 12 races, consistent point scoring is a must for Ricciardo to help McLaren defeat Ferrari in the Constructors Championship. McLaren is currently tied in third place on 163 points with Ferrari.

With favourable races coming up for Ricciardo where he has performed well in the past, he should have ample opportunity to turn his season around.

With the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa, the first race after the break, this is the perfect race for Ricciardo to remind everyone of his talent.

Ricciardo has raced well at Spa in the past, most recently finishing fourth last season. He has also finished on the podium three other times in 2017 coming third, 2016 finishing second and winning the race in 2014.

The Italian Grand Prix at the world-famous Monza takes place two weeks after, where Ricciardo has also enjoyed success in the past.

Last season he finished sixth, in 2019 scored his best result for the season at Monza coming fourth and in 2017 also finished just off the podium in fourth.

With a triple-header to kick off the second half of the season, with the Dutch Grand Prix sandwiched between Spa and Monza, strong results in these races could ignite the confidence and belief Ricciardo needs and could be the turning point in his season.

Formula One action returns on Sunday, August 28 with the Belgium Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamp.

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