Daniel Ricciardo will finally get behind the wheel of the new MCL35M this week but he’s already got his eye on another car.
A season after winning a bet with his old Renault boss over a tattoo, the affable Aussie is dreaming up another wager with McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
“Only a couple of hours ago we were having some lunch with Zak and he mentioned something about him hating needles,” Ricciardo said.
“So I can’t see the tattoo thing happening with Zak but we’ll think of something else. I know he’s got a pretty good car collection, so maybe we could just bet for one of his cars or something.”
Brown’s collection includes Formula One cars raced by champions such as Mario Andretti and Arton Senna and McLaren and Ferrari road vehicles.
Ricciardo has already got his hands on the ultimate company car, showing off the McLaren 765LT on social media.
But his work car is cause for excitement too as McLaren aims to “close the gap” to Mercedes when the new Formula One season begins.
McLaren, entering their 54th season in Formula One, finished last season well behind Mercedes, the seven-time defending champions for drivers’ and constructors’ championships, but hope that their new engines, supplied by Mercedes, will help them to fight for the titles.
“We are striving to close the gap to Mercedes who we anticipate will again be fastest,” Brown said.
“Technical regulations remain stable so we expect to be the same as last year and even closer next year.”
The switch from the Renault engines, which they used for three years, to Mercedes came in a bid to add to their 20 world championships — 12 drivers’ titles and eight constructors’ championships.
“We wanted a championship winning engine,” said team principal Andreas Seidl during a virtual press conference.
“The Mercedes power unit can help us win races again but we still have work to do as a team before we fight for race wins again.”
Ricciardo is at the centre of that team.
The Australian, 31, who has joined the outfit from Renault on a two-year deal with a driver option for a third, will line up alongside 21-year-old Briton Lando Norris who scored a third-placed finish in last season’s Austrian Grand Prix and helped McLaren to finish third in the constructors’ championship.
“As I see it, most teams have a chance for a podium,” said Ricciardo at the digital launch.
“Hopefully my experience and my motivation come out on top in whatever battle I am in. I certainly have ambition to be on the podium.
“McLaren has been on an awesome journey over the last few years, and I’m looking forward to helping the team maintain this positive momentum.”
Norris finished ninth in the 2020 drivers’ championship but his preparations for the new season were hampered in January by a spell of quarantine in Dubai after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I felt drained, tired for a couple of weeks, but I am now fully recovered,” he said. “I am altogether confident I can come into the season knowing what I really want.”
He doesn’t see the addition a seven-times race winner as a threat.
“I don’t think the arrival of Daniel will make it any harder for me,” said the 21-year-old as McLaren became the first team to launch their 2021 car.
“I worked with Carlos (Sainz) who is an extremely good driver and there are things Carlos is going to be better at than Daniel and vice-versa.
“I don’t believe Daniel is a big step above anything that Carlos has achieved, and there is more pressure on him because he has been in Formula One for longer and he has to come in and perform very well.”
“It is harder for someone to go up against a much younger driver than it is for a younger driver going up against someone with more experience,” Norris added.
“I am in that earlier phase of my career but I still need to perform very well, and there are no excuses for me anymore.”
Apart from the engine and new driver line-up, McLaren also unveiled the MCL35M, the team’s 2021 race car, which is an “evolution” of the 2020 model and “benefits from aerodynamic and chassis developments” that the team implemented during the off-season.
The team said the new car would maintain the “iconic McLaren papaya orange and blue”, first carried by the team in the 1960s with team founder, Bruce McLaren, at the wheel.
– with AFP