Ricciardo “didn’t care anymore” about F1 reputation after leaving McLaren following tough times

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Ricciardo breaks down his journey following a difficult stint with McLaren to his return to AlphaTauri and his goal to get back to the top of the sport with Red Bull following his short hiatus from the sport.

Ricciardo gets into the RB19 at the 2023 Silverstone tyre test
Photo: formula1.com

The end of the 2022 Formula 1 season represented a low point in Daniel Ricciardo’s Formula 1 career as McLaren chose to terminate his contract a year early in favour of Oscar Piastri. With race seats hard to come by and virtually nonexistent at the top of the field, it seemed we would not see the eight time Grand Prix winner compete in 2023.

“I feel like I needed out, to step away for a bit…”

With his less than stellar stint with McLaren leaving the Aussie hurt. While admitting he believed the lack of results had hurt his reputation in the sport, he says he didn’t care, but his ousting as the team came as a wake up call.

“At the time, it was a bit of a harsh reality getting fired,” he told the New York Times. “It’s never the way you want to end something, but I feel like I needed out, to step away for a bit, to refind myself, refind my love for the sport.

“By the end of the season, when I got home for Christmas, I thought, ‘OK, it probably doesn’t help my reputation’, but at that point, I didn’t care anymore. It was a blessing in disguise.”

“I didn’t feel I was at that point.”

Ricciardo made the most of his time away, returning home to Australia and de stressing. Spending time with his friends and relaxing took time away from the otherwise ruthless training schedule of a Formula 1 driver, with Ricciardo spending only 1 day training.

“Other than that day, I was living life,” Ricciardo said. “I wasn’t going stupid, but I was having beers with friends, camping, fishing, doing these things.

“Then, it got to the end of January, I’ve probably done eight weeks of just holidays, and I was starting to be like, ‘OK, I don’t really want to fall into this, having a beer every day, having fun.’ I didn’t feel I was at that point. I didn’t want to become a bit of a slob.”

With boredom and longing setting in and Ricciardo no doubt having plenty left to give to Formula 1, it was no surprise when he was announced as a simulator and third driver for his former team Red Bull for the 2023 season.

“I knew I wanted to get back into it.”

Returning to a familiar environment where he was appreciated by his former colleagues proved instrumental in the return of the famous smiling Daniel Ricciardo. Almost immediately Ricciardo was seen posing happily alongside Christian Horner, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

In February, Ricciardo attended the superbowl with his agents the Creative Arts Agency, which he says instilled in him a desire to get back to work in his own sport.

“It was a bit of a work week as I was with C.A.A,” he said. “And I met some people and talked about some projects, which got my work side firing.

“Then, I went to the game, and I was like ‘I miss this.’ I was very envious of the players on the field, the anthem and just that feeling of competition, so when I got back from the Super Bowl, I went back to my place in L.A., got the weights out and started doing a bit of training. I knew I wanted to get back into it.”

“My confidence would go down, and that was the biggest thing.”

With the inspiration flowing, Ricciardo got back on the figurative horse with Red Bull, putting in the hours on the simulator. Although he had lost some of the speed and technique he was known for at the team, with team principal Christian Horner highlighting his famous braking technique as one such casualty, he quickly got back up to speed.

Ricciardo himself agreed with Horner, admitting that his time with McLaren had sapped his confidence as he spent time adjusting his aggressive driving style to suit the characteristics of the car, only to still lack pace against his teammate.

“I genuinely do feel that I lost some of my technique, some of my strengths,” Ricciardo said. “Things that had worked in the past weren’t working anymore, so I had to throw them away. I’d then try some other stuff and they wouldn’t work, then my confidence would go down, and that was the biggest thing.

“I realized that when I got back into the Red Bull sim, that I was not a very confident person, so in a way it was a relief for me to see I wasn’t operating at the level I thought.”

Daniel Ricciardo on track in the AT04
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“After his performance at the test, it was a no-brainer.”

With Ricciardo rebuilding his confidence and showcasing his pace to Red Bull as he targeted a full time return to the sport, the writing was on the wall for struggling AlphaTauri driver Nyck DeVries. Ricciardo drove the RB19 for Red Bull during the Silverstone tyre test, a planned appearance to gauge his pace according to Horner.

“It was always scheduled for him to do that test, and that was very much going to be a moment in time just to see where he was at,” Horner said.

“With Nyck struggling to get to grips with [the AlphaTauri], it just felt it took on more relevance, and to give AlphaTauri some direction with an experienced driver, after his performance at the test, it was a no-brainer.”

“I would love to work my way back up to the top team.”

Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri return was marred by a crash in Zandvoort however, breaking his wrist and requiring surgery, he was forced to sit out the following Grands Prix. Despite the setback, he was guaranteed the seat at AlphaTauri once recovered.

Ricciardo set his goals out very clearly; to continue with AlphaTauri next season with the aim to make a return to the main Red Bull team for the 2025 season.

“I told Christian, ‘Look, now that I’m back in the family, I feel so much happier, like myself, and I don’t want to leave,’” he said.

“The big picture is that I would love to work my way back up to the top team. I’m not talking to any other teams, I made that clear, and now it’s up to me to perform well because I’d love to remain.”