“When he comes into the room, he lightens the mood” raves Horner raves about Red Bull returnee Daniel Ricciardo. “It’s great to have him back in the team,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian returned to his team before the start of the season after two difficult years at McLaren, in which he was totally lost alongside Lando Norris and couldn’t find his feet.
In the meantime, however, his smile seems to have returned, if Horner’s words are to be believed: “He exudes a lot of positive energy and it’s nice to see his smile again. When he comes into the room, he brightens the mood,” he stresses, admitting the Australian has made huge progress and is back to his best again.
Time at Red Bull undone many issues
But Ricciardo has not come back to Red Bull after four years just to create a positive mood. The Australian has first moved to the second tier for some time out to regroup, recommend himself for a top team and, of course, help Red Bull out as a third driver.
“He’s really pushing himself, attending all the sessions and working hard in the simulator. There he provides support on the race weekend and also pushes the development,” praised Horner. “It’s only positive for us to have him in the team, supporting the drivers and the technicians.”
Before the season, Ricciardo admitted that he let training slide a bit in the winter because he is not scheduled to be a regular driver. Still, he obviously has to keep fit should one of the drivers drop out and he has to step in.
But the team boss sees no problem with that: “I’d say he’s about ten minutes away from being ready,” he says. “He’s in good shape, has kept himself fit. But we’ve had to bulk him up a bit. He came to us quite thin, but is in better shape now. He trains a lot and is ready when the chance comes.”
A different Daniel Ricciardo than before
The question, though, is how things are mentally after his sobering time at McLaren. Ricciardo had scored 37 points in 2022, while teammate Norris picked up 122. The British driver also had the edge in 2021, with 160 points to 115.
Horner admits that when Ricciardo first rejoined the team after Abu Dhabi, he had developed a few qualities “that we didn’t remember as the Daniel that left us then”.
But he also says Ricciardo had a chance to regroup over the winter:
“When he came back and got into the work for 2023, he hit the ground running and I think he likes the feel of the car in the virtual world, which seems to match well with what we see in the real world,” he says.
“And I think he’s keen to drive the car at some point to confirm that, but we’re definitely seeing him get back to being a lot more like the Daniel we know,” Horner said.
Zak Brown also keeping his fingers crossed
McLaren CEO Zak Brown is also rooting for his former protégé, despite the premature termination of their joint collaboration: “I think we’re all big Daniel fans,” he says. “And as Christian said, he lights up the room when he comes in and smiles.”
As for why it didn’t work out for him at McLaren, Brown isn’t sure either: “Sometimes a driver just needs to recharge his batteries. Fernando [Alonso] did that, Alain Prost did that.”
He wishes, “Hopefully Daniel will get an opportunity to try and take his ninth Grand Prix win and many more. I think we would all like to see him back on the grid on a regular basis.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 11, 2023