Daniel Ricciardo agreed that to sum up his season so far, it has been “one step forward, two steps back”, reflecting on how the first half of his season with McLaren has gone and why he has lagged behind his F1 teammate.

One of the biggest mysteries of the 2021 season so far is the disappearance of Ricciardo. A man who won multiple races at Red Bull and got the most out of an average Renault, made a name for himself as one of the best drivers on the grid. But this season is a different story. That has dried up and the Australian looks a mere shadow of the driver we all know he is. Teammate Lando Norris has had an upperhand him head to head and with the Aussie lacking form, Ferrari pose a real threat to McLaren’s P3 in the constructors.

“It has been a bit like that – one step forward and two steps back – this year so far,” stated Ricciardo to media including FormulaRapida.net. “I’ll even look back at Bahrain, first quali of the year and I think I was P6 or something and I was like alright, I mean I’m only going to learn the car more and get stronger from here but then you kind of have two bad then maybe you get a good one in Barcelona.”

It’s been up and down for Ricciardo with performance varying at each race, maybe a solid start in Bahrain lulled him into a false sense of security. Unlike his teammate, the Australian has struggled for consistency in his new machinery. “The trend is not that consistent in terms of you know sometimes the high speed corners are good sometimes the low speed are,” he said. With limited testing prior to the season start, this definitely went against him as he attempts to get up to speed with new machinery.

But Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Fernando Alonso of Alpine have now settled in which doesn’t help Ricciardo’s case, even though Andrea Stella tried to explain what has troubled him the most. “So its I think ultimately it’s just been quite tricky to drive but also just to really feel and find the limit and I think that you know some days when it’s feeling alright I’m able to push it up there and let’s say drive more on instinct but then I think too often it’s a little bit reactive,” summed up Ricciardo.

But he is confident this level of form will not be forever and doesn’t want to limit what he can do in the second half of 2021 despite recent comments about him not expecting too much improvement. “I don’t want to like draw a line and be like okay this is how it’s gonna be forever in time its just obviously I want it to get better ASAP but yeah for now it’s slow and steady,” he aid. It will come for Ricciardo for sure, it’s just a matter of time, whether it’s in 2021 or next season though remains to be seen.

In Hungary, Ricciardo found himself eliminated in Q2, a long way off where he should be and his teammate, unfortunately this is the reality at the moment. “I mean, for now, like I don’t want to say like I don’t want to draw a line under it like this is definitive and this is what it is but obviously yeah more often than not this year it’s been the case,” he said. But again he is keen to not dwell on it as well as limit himself to that level in the process.

Like he said, it’s a “slow and steady” process of getting up to speed with a car that couldn’t be further away from his driving style. “There’s still obviously some things with the car which I’m yeah like I’m able to put it like together but again like at this level when everyone is obviously doing well and pretty familiar with the equipment now it’s sometimes not enough or too often not enough,” he said. The performances of other drivers who moved teams, Sainz and Alonso, is putting Ricciardo under added pressure.

So it is now a case of “trying to just extract a bit more confidence in the car through feel and I guess that feel comes through setup and stuff like that”. More trial and error is needed to master his McLaren and he went on to describe his current situation as a “sad reality”. At the halfway point of a season it’s commonplace to give drivers a rating out of 10. Ricciardo was asked how he’d rate his first half of 2021.

“I’ll leave it up to you guys, its I mean it hasn’t been my finest six months I think on track, I don’t know, it’s a five [out of 10] or something, it’s certainly not outstanding,” said Ricciardo. A 5/10 is a fair reflection for sure, he knows 2021 is likely to be the nadir of his 10 year career so far.

But where there is adversity there is opportunity. “I think to kind of give it a positive spin, I think the off-track stuff and the work we as a team have put in, and I don’t know I feel like at least my personal past, I feel I’ve put more work in than I had before, that’s not to say I’ve been lazy in the past, but yeah it’s just kind of hasn’t always been my style to spend hours and hours in the data,” said Ricciardo. Opportunity to get better at “off track stuff” like practise studying data and sim work which will set him in good stead in the coming years. It’s definitely something of a transitional year for the Australian.

But what distinguishes the great from the good is their work rate and Ricciardo has plenty of that which has impressed McLaren. “I think I’ve definitely given it the right approach in this year, so it’s not through lack of trying or lack of commitment, but yeah the on track for sure is somewhere in the middle,” he said. So long as he’s giving it 110%, McLaren will be patient and help nurture the Australian back into the high performance machine that he is. It’s safe to he will give it his all until he gets it right.

The 2021 has been a season to forget for Ricciardo so far, “one step forward and two steps back” is certainly the feeling, with performances up and down and consistency hard to come by. The performance deficit to his teammate and where he should be is alarming, but all parties are confident it is just a matter of time.

The story was written by Ollie Pattas

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