Does Daniel Ricciardo need to leave McLaren?

03rd August 2022
Ian Parkes

Four years ago, Netflix beautifully portrayed the angst of a driver caught on the horns of a dilemma. In the summer of 2018, Daniel Ricciardo was in a quandary. He knew a new Red Bull contract was his for the taking. All he had to do was say 'yes' and put pen to paper. On the flip side, Ricciardo had held talks with the then Renault team, who were willing to offer what we now know was a remarkable $25million-per-year deal.


What that season's 'Drive to Survive' series eventually showed us, when it was aired in February 2019, was Ricciardo caught between two stools. On the one hand, there was loyalty to Red Bull, the team that had nurtured him through the formative years of his career, that had given him seven race wins and two third-place finishes in the drivers' championship in 2014 and again in 2016. On the other was an awareness Red Bull was building the team around its prodigy, Max Verstappen, and the feeling he was slowly but surely being marginalised, despite assurances to the contrary from team principal Christian Horner.

On August 3, 2018, Ricciardo and Renault confirmed a two-year deal as the amiable Australian opted to try new pastures, but more importantly, there was a feeling he was wanted, rather than playing second fiddle to a rising star.

Fast forward to the present day, and Ricciardo finds himself in a similar predicament. It will be fascinating to see, come February of next year, if Netflix has again been allowed access to watch him wrestle with his inner demons.


The scenario is this. Ricciardo has a cast-iron contract with McLaren for next season. There is a break clause, but on his side, meaning he can opt out at any time should he so desire, while the team is locked in.

After two years of misery with the Woking-based team, with the exception of the anomalous high of his Italian Grand Prix triumph last year, the speculation surrounding Ricciardo's future has been almost incessant of late. The 33-year-old recently declared his intent to see out his contract, to continue working with McLaren to overcome the issues he and the team seem incapable of finding an answer to.

In his first season with McLaren in 2021, there was an excuse for his performances - Italy aside - that the car was the last to be run under the old regulations. While the team did all it could to make Ricciardo as comfortable as possible, there was little point in ploughing resources into making the kind of necessary adjustments required when the focus was on the all-change 2022 rules.


The problem for Ricciardo is that despite an all-new car, performances and results this season have been even worse than last year. McLaren is at a loss to find a solution for a driver who is continually tenths of a second per lap behind exemplary team-mate Lando Norris. Even worse, it is not just a particular type of corner where Ricciardo struggles to marry his driving style to the car, it is on all types of turns.

Despite Ricciardo's assertion he is willing to plough forward, regardless, with the team into 2023, he has now been thrown the shock curveball that McLaren appears to be actively seeking to replace him anyway. It has emerged that his fellow Australian, the up-and-coming Oscar Piastri, has held discussions of late about a move to McLaren.

Piastri's own declaration he will not be driving for Alpine next season as the replacement for Fernando Alonso, despite the French team's pronouncement he would be doing so given the contractual situation, would appear to suggest he is placing his eggs into the McLaren basket.


It was a bold and potentially foolish public statement on Piastri's part because should Ricciardo stand his ground and hold McLaren to the three-year contract he signed 18 months ago, it leaves the reigning F2 champion with seemingly nowhere to go. Why would Alpine want him back when he has appeared to have burned his bridges with the team that has nurtured him these past few years, even if he has been forced into a campaign on the sidelines this season?

From McLaren's perspective, in talking to Piastri, you get the feeling it is trying to force Ricciardo's hand, to get him into thinking he is no longer wanted and that he will ultimately trigger his own release. If Ricciardo holds firm, he knows he faces a season and a half with a team where he is liked, given his naturally ebullient character, but where he also now knows the trust in him as a driver has been blown.

There is a chance he could return to Enstone, but would they want him back? After all, Ricciardo announced he was joining McLaren before the 2020 season had even started due to the coronavirus pandemic, which was hardly endearing. And would Alpine be willing to take a chance on a driver who has lost his way at McLaren, suggesting he may be a spent force? They at least know he would not cost the $25millon of a few years ago as his stock has since fallen.

As was the case four years ago, though, Ricciardo faces an anxious summer mulling over the question likely reverberating in his head – should he stay or should he go?

  • Formula 1

  • F1 2022

  • Daniel Ricciardo

  • McLaren

  • Oscar Piastri

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    Formula 1

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