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High Time McLaren ‘Fessed Up!

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Posted on August 8, 2022 Tags:



How did Alpine End in such a Driver Mess?

“Oscargate and the Piasco Fiasco”

With the premier motor racing series in hiatus for the summer break, the silly season has been overwhelmed by rumours and innuendo involving McLaren which have engulfed the sport since the break after the Hungaroring.

The saga hit high decibels when Mark Webber protégé, Melbourne young gun Oscar Piastri – reigning FIA F2 champion and an undoubted talent – broke ranks last week publicly stating:

“I will not drive for Alpine in 2023!”

Oscar Piastri, F1 hopeful, July 2022.

To which Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine team principal, replied: “I expected more loyalty from Oscar than he is showing. I started in 1989 in Formula 1 and I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s not about F1, it’s about integrity as a human being.”

Szafnauer said Alpine would play hardball in its bid to hold on to Piastri.

“He should drive for the team that has taken care of him, that has taken him to the world championship and, above all that during the last year has put him in a F1 car so that he would be ready, so that he would know the circuits. There should be some loyalty to the fact that we have invested literally millions and millions of euros to prepare him.”

Hardly the sort of reputation a rookie needs to begin his F1 career!

But Alan Jones – 1980 F1 World Champion,12-time winner – reckons

“There’s still no official confirmation about who drives where in 2023, but one thing’s certain: Daniel Ricciardo won’t be at McLaren. That’s no way in the wide world that’s going to happen. Every now and again a driver comes along who wins everything he puts his backside into. That’s Oscar Piastri. Alan JonesNine’s Wide World of Sport.


DANIEL RICCIARCO and MCLAREN RACING! These two subjects are the remaining mitigating factors which should bring to a head the festering sore that has plagued Formula One in recent weeks.

F1 Media Heads For Meltdown

Just hours earlier the French team Alpine (formerly Renault) released a statement that Piastri was getting promoted to the 2023 seat just vacated by former world champ Fernando Alonso.

Alpine’s desire to keep Alonso for at least one more contract is what convinced Piastri and his manager, ex-Red Bull driver Mark Webber, to explore other options.

It was seen as the team setting out its legal position that they have no doubts whatsoever about where Piastri is contractually bound to race next season.

Meanwhile it is understood McLaren does not have options in Daniel Ricciardo‘s contract to terminate the deal, but the eight-time race winner does have exit clauses on his side.

Piastri’s forthright statement, following Sebastian Vettel’s sort-of expected retirement announcement and Alonso’s surprise seat swap to Aston Martin for next year, brought about a worldwide media meltdown focused on the Perth superstar Ricciardo’s immediate future.

According to one pundit, Piastri’s response was, “either front-foot brilliance or stone motherless stupidity. Only time will tell which.”

Either way it would seem the reigning longtime Alpine reserve driver sees his future with the British team McLaren rather than the French manufacturer.

Many well-regarded commentators have claimed it was a done deal, heralding:

McLaren Has Dumped Daniel!

Daniel Ricciardo in happier times with McLaren boss Zak Brown. Image courtesy McLaren Racing.

I have long found it curious the performance in 2022 of Daniel’s MCL36 McLaren. He’s much better than that. And he certainly deserves more than being pawn in the British team’s pursuit of the 21-year-old Piastri, who has yet to even drive the latest spec papaya.

McLaren has been one of the most disappointing stories of this season, promising a return to the front of the grid with the huge technical rule change. It has failed dismally shy, and currently fallen decidedly short of what they had promised for 2022.  

Why Daniel Struggles with McLaren MCL36

As motorsport.com‘s Luke Smith reports, while the 2022 regulations may have heralded a technical overhaul for F1, they did not eradicate many of the characteristics of the McLaren car that made it so tricky to drive last year.

Pictured, McLaren’s MCL36

“The MCL36, just like the MCL35M, excels in high-speed corners but struggles more when it comes to the medium-speed stuff,” Smith explained.

While Lando Norris has been able to adjust and work around the characteristics of the MCL36, Daniel Ricciardo has struggled to do so in the same way. Smith spoke to Daniel as he was heading off for his summer break.

“He has always been a driver who thrived off having complete confidence in the car, allowing him to be aggressive and throw it around. The McLarens of the past two years have not given him the chance to do that.

Ricciardo said new issues have emerged with the car this year that served as further setbacks. “Some of the, let’s call it struggles or difficulties, are a carry over – and then there might be a few new things where you’re like, damn, OK!” Ricciardo said. “It kind of just comes down to the feel. It’s probably still hard to get a read, I guess, and to really build consistency in a race sometimes. My lap time variation might be quite big, and that’s normally like uncharacteristic.

“That kind of highlights where I’ll get caught off or something, I’m like, ‘oh shit, I didn’t expect the car to do that in that corner.’ It’s still just a little bit tricky to read I guess, going on a simple term.”

Will Piastri Really Replace Daniel?

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

The remarkable events this past week or so around the Alpine junior – unsurprisingly labelled Oscargate and the Piasco – seem to confirm McLaren is intent on replacing one Australian with another.

The whole schemozzle has done little for the reputation of neither McLaren CEO Zak Brown, who some have accused of “playing chicken” waiting for his driver to walk away from a contract. And the standing of Alpine’s hierarchy, particularly those responsible for contracts, has also taken a beating.

Ricciardo, in the second year of a three-season deal with McLaren that has the third year as an option – crucially, on his side – was struggling when the caravan again invaded Monaco, scene of one of his great wins.  

That same May weekend, Zak Brown suggested there were break clauses in Ricciardo’s contract, adding “there are mechanisms in which we’re committed to each other, and mechanisms in which we’re not”.

So began the public questioning of Ricciardo’s tenure which has simply escalated out of control, despite McLaren responding by reiterating they were keen to help Ricciardo “rediscover his mojo”.

It wasn’t until July and his eighth place in the Austrian Grand Prix, that he felt obliged to deny his ordinary 2022 would see him walk away at season’s end suggesting he, and not McLaren, held the option on his 2023 contract.  

Sky Sports Ted Kravitz May Have Scooped Everyone

Sky Sports F1 pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz – as savvy as they come – suggested why the mooted Piastri to Williams loan arrangement had stalled.

“Could the delay be that (Piastri) and his manager Mark Webber are looking at potentially replacing Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren?

“As every race goes by and points and performance fail to come in for Ricciardo, maybe McLaren will come in with a late offer for Piastri, nick him from under Williams’ nose and offer him Ricciardo’s seat for 2023.“

And, as much as I would like to think otherwise, don’t be surprised if that is what has happened!

Drink Some Beers, Have Fun!

Daniel Ricciardo has not commented since he spoke with motorsport.com after the Hungarian Grand Prix, and just before Piastri dropped his bombshell:

“To be honest, switching off normally gives me like a natural reset, to a point where I imagine in say 10 days, two weeks into the break, I would have kind of got the holiday out of my system, and then I’ll build that hunger back again.

“So I’ll naturally think about it, after getting time off. That’s normally how it works for me.

“Again, go out with friends, drink some beers, have fun.

“And then I‘ll get to the point where I start to not feel guilty, but just like alright, time to turn it on again.

“And then it’s kind of a natural switch that will come back probably after 14 days.

“A bit like last year, kind of start that second half of this season with a positive bang and just to get the ball rolling.

“The triple header (Belgium Aug 28, Dutch Sept 2, Italy Sept 9) – it’s intense. So I think come out and set some strong intentions.

“That‘s the plan. Obviously, it’s easier said than done.

But that’s certainly the plan.”

DANIEL RICCIARDO


I would be surprised if Daniel had not spoken to Mark Webber before, or since, Piastri’s statement. And no doubt he’ll tell us when he’s ready.

Most certainly what’s gone down must play on his mind.

But he certainly deserves credit for how he has carried himself during what can be described as an awkward situation.


The Legacy of an Extraordinary Human Being

  • Fact: Ricciardo is the only McLaren driver to have won a Formula One race (last year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza) since 2012.
  • Fact: McLaren has delivered yet another underwhelming and underperforming car.
  • Fact: Ricciardo, at his best, is still one of F1’s top drivers and over takers.
  • Fact: Ricciardo is among the most identifiable personalities in world motorsport.
  • Fact: Ricciardo remains one of the most marketable talents in F1.
  • Fact: Ricciardo is especially popular in America, a market which is booming like never before for F1.
  • Fact: Ricciardo has done wonders for McLaren’s brand away from the racetrack.

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Aussie Superstar a Remarkable Professional

The entire sorry saga reflects very poorly on Zak Brown and McLaren how they have treated Ricciardo in recent times. It’s long been F1 paddock scuttlebutt McLaren was in talks with Piastri and Mark Webber.

Despite that, Ricciardo has been charged with the responsibility of a significant amount of McLaren’s commercial work behind the scenes – hardly conducive, one might think, to on-track performance. 

Ricciardo has been remarkably professional in the face of Brown’s manoeuvring. The statement he intends seeing out his contract until the end of 2023 is testament to his as close as we’ve seen him come to a public disagreement with his boss. That statement was some time ago and there’s no question about the change in circumstances.

Serious Questions Remain to be Answered

There is also no doubt Daniel is fully aware his options might well be away from McLaren. Reports from Europe suggest at least four teams have been in contact in the past couple of weeks.

There are also serious questions about how well run the French team is after losing Fernando to Aston Martin. And now Piastri to McLaren?

But until we hear something definitive from Daniel, or McLaren, the outcome is anyone’s guess!

With the season resuming August 28 with the Belgium Grand Prix, and if Oscar Piastri’s move to McLaren for 2023 really is a done deal, Daniel Ricciardo has nine races left to prove to the rest of the grid he can still deliver in Formula 1.

It would seem McLaren does not have options in Ricciardo’s contract to terminate the deal, but the eight-time race winner does have exit clauses on his side, and he may well see a return to Alpine – where he raced when it was called Renault between 2019 and 2020 – as a viable option if McLaren has settled on Piastri.

EDITED by AC

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