Written by Tiannah Pedler, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Heading into the summer break, there was already a lot of discussion regarding Daniel Ricciardo's performance in the 2022 season. Then came the Oscar Piastri saga, during which Ricciardo's future became less and less clear. As it stands, fans are unsure where the Australian will end up. Will he retain his McLaren seat for 2023, move elsewhere, or is his career in Formula One over?
A lot is going on behind the scenes. Ricciardo has previously claimed to have difficulty with his McLaren MCL36, and there have been suggestions that his car is not as driveable as that of teammate Lando Norris.
While it's impossible to know what takes place behind the doors of the McLaren garage, there are plenty of stats that offer a hint of an insight into Ricciardo's uphill battle this season.
When Daniel Ricciardo moved to McLaren in 2021, the delta between himself and Norris in qualifying sessions was +0.277 seconds, on average. Midway through the 2022 season, that gap has widened to +0.483 seconds, almost doubling.
Several strategy mistakes and miscommunications during qualifiers appear to have occurred this year. From a lack of response from his race engineers in Imola that prevented him from pushing early to a delayed start in the Miami Q2 session due to engine trouble, Ricciardo seems to have had no luck when it comes to qualifying.
More recently, Ricciardo picked up the pace in Hungary and ended just +0.122 seconds behind Norris in the Q1 session. However, he lamented that he "picked up a bit more understeer" in Q3, landing him in P9 while his teammate was swept up to P4.
Even when Ricciardo is in form, he still finishes a few tenths behind Norris. However, plenty of strategy errors and bad luck incidents pull down his average, painting a worse picture of his speed than is necessarily accurate.
Of course, qualifying is not the be-all and end-all, so what happens during the race?
Contrary to his qualifying results, Ricciardo has shortened the delta with Norris in points. After 11 races in 2021, Ricciardo was 63 points behind his teammate; this year, that gap is 57.
Once again, there has been much talk about a problem with Ricciardo's car. After a poor finish outside the points in Spain, McLaren Team Principal Andreas Seidl explained that it was "simply not possible for Daniel to do a better pace" due to a fault with his car.
On several occasions, Ricciardo has outperformed his younger teammate, including in Baku. Team orders were given on lap five for Ricciardo to hold position behind Norris, despite the Australian arguing that he had the faster pace. However, by lap 20, Norris was forced to box with rear tyre wear, leaving Ricciardo to pull out in front. The number three driver eventually finished in P8, with Norris just behind in P9.
Despite McLaren's team orders, the race pace data shows that Ricciardo was consistently faster than his teammate. The question remains: had Ricciardo not been slowed for the first 20 laps, could he have bested Fernando Alonso and finished higher?
Several times following Baku, Ricciardo had complaints about his car. From overheating brakes in Montreal to broken DRS in Silverstone, his streak of bad luck kept on extending.
Ricciardo's most recent race so far, in Hungary, saw him finishing outside the points again in P15.
Is It the MCL36, or Is It Ricciardo?
Since early in the season, Ricciardo has complained about McLaren's 2022 challenger. Shortly after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Ricciardo said of the car, "I think we have a few more weaknesses than strengths."
The Bahrain GP was a disaster for most Mercedes-powered teams, with McLaren, Aston Martin, and Williams all landing outside the points. Only Mercedes themselves managed to score highly.
Entering the summer break, Ricciardo continued to lament a lack of connection with his vehicle. He noted that Norris has also complained about the car but said that he thought his teammate is more used to McLaren's style.
Norris himself has contrarily insisted that the MCL36 is "very unsuited" to his driving style, declaring, "I don't think you can probably in any way say the car is made around me."
It seems neither McLaren driver has meshed particularly well with the car, although the stats suggest Norris has had a better consistent hold on it. This is perhaps not surprising since Norris has been in a McLaren since his debut in Formula One, whereas Ricciardo has bounced between three entirely different car concepts within four years.
It's impossible to say whether one driver's car is better than the other's, but it does not seem like a huge reach to say that the McLaren MCL36 isn't the Woking outfit's best-produced challenger.
Where Does Ricciardo Stand Now?
Undeniably, Ricciardo's performance seems dismal compared to his feats at Red Bull just a few years ago. However, there are many factors contributing to the 33-year-old's apparent struggle.
A combination of bad luck, questionable strategy calls, and a difficult car are all holding the Australian back. Unfortunately, bad luck doesn't guarantee him another chance.
The rumour mill is working overtime, and popular opinion is that fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri will take Ricciardo's McLaren seat in 2023. For now, it's unclear where Ricciardo will end up in future seasons and whether he will get another shot to prove himself.