McLaren’s pressure on Daniel Ricciardo might not be overt to the casual Formula 1 fan, but it is intense within the Woking team – Daniel Ricciardo is under contract until 2023, but he is under pressure in his second season at McLaren. The Woking team’s contract strategy has evolved but it is influenced by the past. It is now clear that Ricciardo will be out of McLaren soon.
Despite a win in 2021, Ricciardo was always in the shadow of Lando Norris last season. The young British driver accumulated far more podiums and points, while his Australian teammate suffered in the lower half of the grid. Not understanding what was happening to him. There was even a time when Ricciardo asked team CEO Zak Brown to stop his contract at the end of the year and terminate his drive. The victory in Monza gave the Australian driver a reprieve for a time, but not for much longer.
Historically, teams often lose their top drivers for two reasons: the first is the lack of competitiveness of the equipment, the second is the lack of confidence in the driver. A decision for a driver to leave is based solely on these two considerations. The McLaren case is not really about the lack of competitiveness of the equipment… but a real inconsistency with Ricciardo has got the McLaren team looking elsewhere.
Mclaren and its age culture
Going back a little earlier in the history of the team, back in 2016 Jenson Button was 36 years old and McLaren is reluctant to extend the partnership with him, not least due to the fact he was in his late 30’s.
Looking even further back, McLaren driver John Watson was 37 in 1983 in his last season with the Woking team. Lauda was 36 in 1985.
David Coutlhard was 33, Mika Hakkinen 32, Martin Brundle 35, Keke Rosberg 38, Alain Prost 34, Ayrton Senna 33. Apart from Nigel Mansell who was 41 in 1995 and the regrets of the past (return of Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen etc…) it is not in the culture of McLaren to have drivers older than 35 years.
Beyond that it’s a decline. The exception recently Button and Alonso who was 37 in his final season in 2018. But there is an internal culture. Crucially, in 2023, Daniel Ricciardo will be 34.
Just before the presentation of the MCL36, McLaren announced the extension of Lando Norris’ contract until 2025. A clear act of intention, taking inspiration from the one made in December 2019 when Ferrari extended Charles Leclerc’s contract, without his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.
A few months later, Vettel announced that his third year of the 2020 contract was his last with the Scuderia. A page was turned. The man of 2015 was no longer the future, a young driver was taking over. A strange similarity between Maranello and Woking was taking hold today.
Ricciardo’s speech sounds like Vettel’s in 2019. So the signs are not pointing in the direction of an extension of the contract beyond the current deal signed between McLaren and Ricciardo.