With Daniel Ricciardo’s first season with McLaren now under his belt, the Australian will enter the 2022 Formula 1 season with high expectations, as McLaren hopes to show they are a legitimate title contender following the introduction of new regulations this season.
Ricciardo had a less than stellar debut season with McLaren, struggling to find consistent form and results from week to week.
Having moved from Renault to McLaren at the start of 2021, the thought was Ricciardo would be the team’s lead driver and help mentor young teammate Lando Norris. Rather the opposite happened with Ricciardo struggling to adjust to the unique driving style required for the McLaren, while Norris had a breakout year to finish sixth in the Driver Championship.
This was a trend that was all too familiar for the Australian, having struggled when he made the switch from Red Bull to Renault in 2019, before returning to being one of the best drivers on the grid in 2020.
While Ricciardo’s first half of the season was underwhelming scoring just 50 points through 11 races, the 32 year old began to show glimpses of the driver we know he can be after the summer break. Ricciardo returned after the break to record five top six finishes and earn 65 points over the final 11 races, scoring more points than Norris during that time.
The highlight of his season came at the world famous Monza circuit, where Ricciardo won the Grand Prix to bring McLaren their first win since 2012 and his eighth career race win. Throughout the whole weekend Ricciardo looked back to his best, qualifying second and then being the quickest to react at the start of the race to be in pole position before the first turn.
However, Ricciardo was unable to maintain this form, returning to his old ways to close out the season to score points in just one of the final five races of the season.
2022 changes and what they mean
The 2022 season will mark the largest overhaul of changes in Formula 1 since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014. The FIA has introduced regulations to encourage closer racing and the ability for more overtakes.
Some of the changes include limiting the amount of downforce which the cars lose from following behind another car by redirecting the dirty air upwards with the addition of role tips to the rear wing. They have also introduced new 18-inch tyres replacing the old 13 inches, a new front wing shape.
For Ricciardo, these new regulations are well suited to his driving style, known as being a late breaking specialist when overtaking.
Ricciardo’s driving style was not well suited to the McLaren 2021 car, the MCL35 usually being more inclined to break earlier when not in a position to overtake, preferring to carry speed into the corners. This style worked well on tracks with lots of high speed corners however was less effective on many of the other tracks on the calendar which feature mainly medium and low speed corners.
Where he has done well in the past
We have seen over the past three seasons since his departure from Red Bull, a trend of performing stronger in the second half of the season as he gets more comfortable with the car.
Ricciardo’s best finishes in the past three years have all come in races in the second half of the schedule, winning Monza in 2021, getting two third place finishes near the end of the 2020 season and in 2019 his season best was a fourth place finish shortly after the summer break.
Ricciardo has historically done well at the likes of Monza, Spa and Silverstone, tracks which offer lots of overtaking opportunities and have many high speed corners.
Ricciardo recorded his best finishes in 2021 and 2019 at Monza and had a sixth place result in 2020.
Spa has been one of Ricciardo’s favourite tracks during his time in F1, always doing well in qualifying and has finished in fourth place at the Belgium Grand Prix the last two seasons. Ricciardo won this race in 2014 and has finished on the podium two other times in 2016 and 2017.
Silverstone has been a track where Ricciardo has been the most consist over the last eight seasons. Besides one DNF in 2015, Ricciardo’s lowest finish was seventh place in 2019. While he has only finished on the podium once the Australian has often been in contention with three fifth place and two fourth place finishes.
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Where to improve
Races in recent years where Ricciardo has been unable to produce strong results and will be hoping to improve this season are the Austrian, Hungarian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s.
The Red Bull Ring in Austria has been a place where the Australian has been unable to score many points, having only finished in the top ten once, with a seventh place finish last year. In the previous three seasons, Ricciardo has recorded two DNF’s and a 12th place result.
After having really strong results in Hungary earlier in his career, winning the Grand Prix in 2014 and finishing on the podium in 2015 and 2016, the last three years since leaving Red Bull Ricciardo has been unable to emulate the same success.
Ricciardo has scored just four points at the track since departing from Red Bull with an eighth place finish in 2020. Last season saw Ricciardo remain in 11th from start to finish and in 2019 he came 14th.
The final race of the year at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has been another track that Ricciardo has struggled to get results at since his move away from Red Bull. Similar to Hungary, Ricciardo was able to score some points in 2020 coming seventh but finished outside of the points in 2021 and 2019 with 12th and 11th place finishes.
What to look forward too
Undoubtingly one of the most exciting parts of the 2022 season will be Ricciardo’s return home for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park after the event has been cancelled the last two years due to COVID.
While it will not be the opening Grand Prix of the season but rather the third race, the Australia Grand Prix should be as exciting as ever with changes made to the track since Formula 1 last raced in Melbourne back in 2019. The modifications to the track will see higher speed corners and more overtaking opportunities.
Albert Park has traditionally been a circuit in which Ricciardo has had strong results, especially during his Red Bull days with fourth place finishes in 2018 and 2016 and a sixth place result in 2015. In his last race in Australia in 2019 during his first season with Renault Ricciardo got a DNF, with him yet to race as part of McLaren back home.
With the new rule changes and modifications to the track, Ricciardo has every opportunity to make an early season statement in front of his home fans, much like Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton did last season at their home races.
Outlook for 2022 season
There is no doubt that on his day Ricciardo can be one of the best drivers on the grid, but whether he can remain consistent enough throughout the whole season is something he will need to prove this season.
If Ricciardo’s performances from year one to year two with Renault is anything to go by, there should be great optimism around what the Australian can produce in 2022.
Ricciardo will enter the season with limited opportunities to test the car, only participating in pre-season testing in Barcelona, where on Day two he posted the third fastest lap time. Unfortunately, Ricciardo missed all three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain after testing positive for COVID.
Missing out on all of testing in Bahrain could have potential consequences for Ricciardo who will be behind the rest of the drivers on the grid in terms of experiences in their cars. This experience will be even more important this year with so many changes to the cars due to the new regulations.
This combined with the fact that teammate Norris has been reporting some concerning news about the car, experiencing breaking issues. Even with these issues, Norris was still able to be within the top 8 fastest lap times on both days one and two which could offer some optimism.
McLaren is expected to again be one of the top teams this year as they hope to compete with the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull more often after having successful patches doing so in 2021.
With the new regulations and McLaren being bullish about their expectations for this season there is every opportunity we see Ricciardo and McLaren on the podium again at some stage this season.
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