Meanwhile, teammate Lando Norris came third and fifth, creating the biggest points gap between the drivers since teaming up this year.
Experience and past successes at Monaco and Azerbaijan — he won at both tracks for Red Bull in 2018 and 2017 respectively — were thought to be of some help to Ricciardo’s acclimatisation process at McLaren.
But sub-par showings at both events, including a crash in qualifying at Baku, have proven just how gruelling that process is.
It’s clear that McLaren’s cars need to be driven in a particular way, while Ricciardo has a trademark style under braking that, so far, hasn’t been compatible.
That gap between how the McLaren wants to be driven and how Ricciardo wants to drive it has only been exacerbated by tricky assignments at the past two races.
In theory, Ricciardo now heads into a friendlier stretch with the French, Styrian, Austrian and British Grands Prix all boasting flowing layouts.
Two of those races — Styria and Austria — will be held at the Red Bull Ring, where two races were held last year, too.
That familiarity should boost Ricciardo’s chances — he was strongest this year in Spain where he’s logged countless laps during pre-season testing.
He’s also working hard in the simulator, which he said was proving to be productive before the Azerbaijan GP.
“It was really just trying to take a step back and understand what’s going on and how the car works and what needs to be done to get the car working well,” he said.
“Certainly some things now do seem more clear to me, and I think it was really productive to do that.
“I’m just looking forward to putting that in play now on track.”
‘FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM’ A STAIN ON MODERN F1
After sudden punctures to Verstappen and Lance Stroll, and after a large cut was found in one of Lewis Hamilton’s tyres, Pirelli’s performance as F1’s sole tyre provider is squarely back in focus.
Since becoming F1’s exclusive provider in 2011, Pirelli has been under pressure to deliver a tyre that can withstand wheel-to-wheel racing, but degrade enough to make two-stop strategies occasionally viable.
Pirelli has never convincingly delivered, and is now under fire for what’s being labelled an “unacceptable” failure in Baku.
Verstappen was four laps from victory when his left-rear blew out at about 320km/h, moments after the same happened to Stroll.
“It’s not acceptable,” Paul di Resta said on Sky Sports, noting that the drivers “don’t like the tyres”.
Verstappen predicted Pirelli would blame debris, adding that the excuse is “a bit hard to accept”.
Sure enough, Pirelli boss Mario Isola was swiftly on the defensive, saying: “I believe I can exclude that failures were due to tyre wear, because it’s not a matter of tyre wear…
“I don’t want to give any preliminary conclusions. But it seems that it is a cut due to debris, because as I said, it’s not the most stressed tyre.”
The issue now is that Pirelli isn’t under any meaningful pressure to provide a valid explanation given it is contracted to be F1’s sole supplier until 2023.
Hamilton recently told Speedweek that Pirelli, however, has long been making a “fundamental” error.
The solution could be to go back to having competing tyre suppliers, Hamilton said.
“We drivers constantly complain that these tires are overheating. We can’t attack constantly, and from my point of view that’s the basis for better sport,” Hamilton told the publication.
“Pirelli is guilty of a fundamental problem. These cars are getting heavier.
“When we had several tire manufacturers in Formula 1 at the time, the racing cars were considerably lighter. But the companies spurred each other on. Today this incentive is missing because we have a sole supplier. It’s only us drivers who put pressure today.”
HAMILTON SHOCKS WITH SLOPPY ERROR
Hamilton was ruthless in the first four races of the season, capitalising on errors from Red Bull to seal three wins and another podium.
It’s hard to believe the same driver could only qualify, and finish, seventh at the Monaco Grand Prix and fail to claim any points in Azerbaijan.
In Monaco, Hamilton was at a loss for words to explain why he suddenly was so much slower.
That race could have just been a small blip on the radar of a long season but, on Sunday, Hamilton was guilty of doing something he never does: Compounding an error.
The seven-time world champion had another race win at his mercy after Verstappen’s late puncture.
But at the restart, Hamilton made a surprisingly rookie error by accidentally flicking a “magic” switch that effectively left him without brakes at Turn One.
“Did I leave the magic on? I could have sworn I turned that off,” Hamilton said as he went off, and ended up finishing 15th.
He later added: “On the restart, I think when Checo (Perez) moved over towards me I clipped a switch and it basically switches the brakes off so I just went straight.
“I had no idea that I’d even touched it.”
The result ensured that Verstappen would stay in the championship lead by four points heading into the French Grand Prix.
WOLFF VS HORNER SET TO EXPLODE
A bubbling spat between Mercedes and Red Bull bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner could reach boiling point at the next race as the FIA introduces new testing procedures.
Red Bull has been feeling the heat amid claims — chiefly from Mercedes — that its rear wing breaches technical regulations by flexing at high speeds.
Meanwhile, Horner believes Mercedes is guilty of double standards, suggesting the team’s front wing should also come under the microscope.
“If you’re picking on one end of the car you have to look at the other,” Horner said on Sky Sports after qualifying. “Sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit careful what you wish for.”
“I think if I was Toto with the front wing he’s got on his car, I’d keep my mouth shut.”
In response, Wolff said: “Christian is a bit of a windbag who wants to be on camera.
“It’s about being punchy. It’s easy to be punchy when you are on top of the time sheet, but you should be a little bit more modest I think.”
The time for the war of words, however, is drawing to a close with the FIA set to introduce new wing flexibility tests ahead of the French Grand Prix.
The Red Bull design will therefore be rigorously tested under new procedures and either Horner, or Wolff, will be validated.
Speaking on the team radio at the time of the incident, Hamilton said: “Did I leave the magic on? I could have sworn I turned that off.”
He added afterwards: “On the restart, I think when Checo [Perez] moved over towards me I clipped a switch and it basically switches the brakes off so I just went straight.
“I had no idea that I’d even touched it.”
The ‘magic’ switch is designed to heat the front tyres on the car before a race by changing the balance of the brakes. Hamilton likely accidentally double pressed it when turning it off ahead of the restart.
“He touched a button and the brake balance changed,” explained Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “The brake balance went forward and basically the car doesn’t stop.”
The error meant that it was unchanged at the top of the championship, with Verstappen retaining his four-point championship lead.
That left Schumacher ballistic over the team radio, despite him still being able to just squeeze past him.
He fumed: “What the f*** was that, honestly?! Seriously, does he want to kill us?”
Mazepin revealed afterwards that he had ran out of battery as he approached the finish line, with his straight-line speed dropping under the pressure from Schumacher, leaving him frustrated to lose the place.
“The main thing is I’m a little bit upset about losing my position to the teammate on the main straight,” Mazepin said.
“I ran out of battery there, so I was a bit of a sitting passenger, but it is what it is.”
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner insisted the matter was closed after the race, calling it a misunderstanding by both drivers.
“There was a situation on the straight, that was all resolved, and we’ve cleared the air,” Steiner said. “There was some misunderstanding, but we’re fine and all moving on from it.”