Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult and largely unsuccessful spell at McLaren will end after this season, with a question mark hanging over his future in Formula One.
But while Australia’s sole driver on the F1 grid is leaving McLaren a year early, the road has been opened for his 21-year-old compatriot Oscar Piastri to take Ricciardo’s place behind the wheel at the British team.
McLaren said on Wednesday that they had “mutually agreed” the split with the 33-year-old Ricciardo one year before his contract was due to expire, but conceded they had been behind the move.
McLaren say they’ll confirm their driver line-up for the 2023 season “in due course” but it has been an open secret in the sport that Piastri, the Formula 2 champion and Alpine reserve, will step in for the eight-time race winner Ricciardo.
McLaren have been unhappy with Ricciardo’s performances, especially compared to those of his British teammate Lando Norris, who’s under contract until the end of 2025.
Ricciardo has been, on average, a third of a second slower than Norris in qualifying this season, with the Briton seventh in the championship to the Australian’s 12th place. Norris has 76 points to Ricciardo’s 19.
Ricciardo’s finest moment for one of the powerhouse teams came when he won last year’s Italian Grand Prix, but that was a rare moment of success during what has been largely two seasons of disappointment for the West Australian.
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl conceded: “There was a contract and it needed mutual agreement to terminate it early, but after discussion with Daniel we felt it was the right thing for both sides to split ways for next year.
“If you look back at the last 18 months of our journey together, Daniel and McLaren, it’s clear we haven’t achieved the result we wanted, despite highlights like the great win in Monza last year.
“That’s why we had a lot of discussions but in the end we had to acknowledge we did not make it work together despite the commitment that was there from Daniel’s side and all the effort the team has put in.
“And that’s why we came to the agreement we would terminate the contract at the end of this year.
“It’s not the outcome we wanted but we want to put in all the effort to finish the relationship on a high.”
Ricciardo said in a McLaren statement that he was proud of his time at the team, but made it clear he was determined to continue in F1.
There have already been reports that Haas boss Gunther Steiner has made offers to Ricciardo to join the US-based team.
Ricciardo said: “Regardless of what this next chapter brings, I have no regrets and am proud of the effort and work I gave McLaren, especially the win in Monza, last season.
“I will be giving my all on and off track as we enjoy the remainder of the season together.
“I’ve never been more motivated to compete and be a part of a sport that I love so much and look forward to what comes next.”
McLaren team bosses admitted they’d been surprised the link-up with Ricciardo, who was snapped up from Renault in 2021, had not produced better results.
Seidl admitted: “He said it himself – we simply didn’t manage as a team to make him feel fully comfortable in the car, especially when it came to going to the absolute limit in qualifying.
“We tried a lot but unfortunately we didn’t make it work.”
Earlier this month, Alpine announced Melbourne’s Piastri, their reserve driver, would be racing for them next season, only for the Australian to say he wouldn’t. He had, reportedly, already agreed a deal with McLaren.
© AP 2022
Image : XPB/Press Association Images