Daniel Ricciardo finally has reason to smile in the 2021 F1 season after recording his strongest race weekend for McLaren at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Australian claimed his joint-best finish of the year, holding off the faster Ferrari of Carlos Sainz to finish the race — won by Lewis Hamilton — in sixth.
While Ricciardo is still aiming for bigger things at McLaren, his impressive drive allowed him to flip the script on his teammate Lando Norris, who had been mounting pressure on the 31-year-old.
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Norris outdrove Ricciardo at each of the opening three races, including at Imola where team orders were applied.
Leading into Sunday’s race at Circuit de Catalunya, Ricciardo admitted to experiencing some teething issues at McLaren, saying he was locking his brakes and sometimes losing the rear.
But on Sunday, the shoe was on the other foot as McLaren asked Norris to let Ricciardo pass before the Briton finished the race in eighth.
Ricciardo was comfortably stronger in qualifying too, going almost four-tenths faster than Norris.
While McLaren didn’t have the pace to challenge for a podium in Spain, Ricciardo’s tune changed after the race as his season turned a corner.
“It was a better weekend,” Ricciardo told Sky Sports. “It was personally a better weekend for sure. It is definitely a step in the right direction, it is progress.”
He added: “I’m still learning, it sounds crazy to say that but still learning how to be better with this car. The race was good. We do the race five more times a day and I think six is the best we can finish.
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“Every car ahead was faster, and even Carlos (Sainz) behind was faster. So getting him at the start was critical and that allowed me to finish sixth. The team executed a good two stops. We changed the plan later in the race and it was the right call.
“I’m happier … it was a smoother weekend, and definitely the best one of the year so far.”
Ricciardo said he’s eager to get to the next race on May 23 in Monaco, where F1 hasn’t raced since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Firstly I’m excited to go there. It’s been two years,” he said.
“It’s a track that you don’t get the privilege of driving, first of all, and to miss it for a year, I just can’t wait to go there.
“And then we’ll figure it out after that, and it will just be a joy and a pleasure to turn a wheel around there again.”