‘Oh yeah’: McLaren boss drops Ricciardo….
Zak Brown says he remains “totally committed” to unlocking Daniel Ricciardo’s full potential amid speculation the eight-time grand prix winner’s McLaren stay could be cut short.
Expectations were high that Ricciardo’s driving style mismatch with last year’s car would evaporate under the all-new rules for 2022, but so far he’s returned barely improved results compared to his troubled first campaign. He’s scored just twice in 10 grands prix for 15 points, while teammate Lando Norris has amassed 58 points via seven top-10 finishes, including a podium in Imola.
His season’s nadir, back-to-back off-pace races in Spain and Monaco — Norris scored points in both despite a serious bout of tonsillitis — even prompted an apparent rebuke from CEO Brown, who publicly admitted that the high-profile Aussie wasn’t meeting the team’s expectations.
The unusually candid commentary has become a major focus point of McLaren’s season, but in an exclusive interview with Fox Motorsport host Jessica Yates at the McLaren Technology Centre before last weekend’s British Grand Prix, Brown denied they should be interpreted as him doubting Ricciardo’s ability to turn things around.
“It was just an honest answer, it wasn’t meant to be critical,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t think he can win us more races, it doesn’t mean we’re not trying unbelievably hard — quite the opposite; I know he can win us more races, we’re trying unbelievably hard.
“But given his resume and how Lando’s going, do we expect him to be right next to Lando, whether that’s right in front or right behind? Yeah, and so does he.
“And we’re going to get there. We’re totally committed to it
Having also appeared to leave the door open to the possibility that the three-year deal tying Ricciardo to McLaren could be truncated, Brown insisted that wouldn’t be the case.
“Oh yeah,” he said confirmed when asked if Ricciardo would see out his contract with the team.
“He’s a fighter, and his results since we’ve said that — that’s not how they were intended — have been much closer to Lando, and he beat Lando, so maybe there was something … firing him up.
“We love working with him. He loves the team. We’ve seen when we give him a car that’s capable of winning, he can win in it.
“As he said last year, he didn’t feel he had a good season last year and he still won. So it’s in there. We’ve just got to figure out how to unlock it, give him a car that he’s more comfortable with.”
Brown also hit back at suggestions that it was misguided for the CEO to publicly criticise his drivers’ performances, particularly when team principal Andreas Seidl has been steadfastly defensive of Ricciardo during his struggles.
“I saw one of our former grand prix drivers went, ‘Well, we all know it; I can’t believe he said it’,” he said, referring to Jenson Button. “Well, if we all know it, then what’s the big deal that I said it?
“I know it caused a lot of ripples outside [but] Daniel and I have a great relationship. We had dinner in London not too long after that. We’re trading WhatsApps all the time. Someone asked me a question and I gave them an honest answer. It’s the same answer Daniel has given and would give, which is we’re not where we want to be.
“I think on the flip side, if I would’ve said, ‘No, everything’s great’, I think someone would’ve said, ‘Really, you’re happy with 12th?’. Of course I’m not happy with 12th.”
He also reiterated his belief that the Norris-Ricciardo partnership could still deliver its on-paper potential.
“We were fortunate to find Lando at a young age, so he’s been in our system,” he said.
“He’s definitely a future world champion. We just need to give him a car that’s capable of winning races, and then he’ll start winning races.
“I tried to get Daniel in our car a couple of years ago — he ended up going to Renault, then we took another run at him again, this time around successfully.
“Who are the best drivers that have the most talent on the track, that we’ll enjoy working with, that our racing team will enjoy working with, our fans will like, our sponsors will like? I think we have that with Daniel and Lando.”
In the full 20-minute interview Brown also delves into how he’s hoping to change McLaren as he establishes himself at the helm of the company as well as his expectations for the rest of the F1 season and his hopes for Walkinshaw Andretti United’s switch from GM to Ford for next year’s Supercars campaign.