The Australian switched from Renault to McLaren for 2021, partnering young gun Lando Norris, with Ricciardo expected to lead the team’s charge.
Instead he found it difficult to adapt his driving style to the McLaren, being comprehensively outgunned by Norris, who eventually finished sixth in the championship, well clear of Ricciardo in eighth.
Ricciardo managed just one podium all season, although on that occasion he led home a McLaren 1-2 at Monza, breaking the team’s nine-year winning drought.
The situation reached a low at the Monaco Grand Prix in May, where Norris lapped the Australian on the way to finishing third, while Ricciardo trailed home in 12th.
“I’ve never experienced this situation where you see one car finishing third and the other not competitive,” said McLaren boss Zak Brown.
“Daniel struggled, which surprised us, because Monaco is his home race, he’s won it before.
“For sure, that’s frustrating, it’s thrown us a curveball.”
Episode two of Drive to Survive, titled Ace in the Hole, covers the relationship between Ricciardo, Norris and the team through the first five races of the season.
“By the end of this season, I do predict an array of podiums,” Ricciardo said, optimistically, prior to the first race.
McLaren entered the 2021 season having finished third in 2020, keen to maintain that momentum and fight off a resurgent Ferrari outfit in the Constructors’ Championship.
“It’s pretty important to us that we finished third this year,” Brown said during the pre-season.
“The difference between third and fourth can ultimately mean tens of millions of dollars.”
While Norris finished between Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, with all three covered by just 5.5 points, Ricciardo lagged nearly 50 points behind Sainz, condemning McLaren to an expensive drop to fourth place.
Norris’ determination to upstage his more experienced teammate is evident from the beginning. When Ricciardo outqualified him at the season-opening race in Bahrain by just 0.047 seconds, the British driver took it badly.
“How is he?” Norris’ manager, Mark Berryman asks.
The reply, from McLaren communications manager Charlotte Sefton, sums up Norris’ feelings.
“He said, and I quote, ‘1-nil down already, f—, s—, f—‘,” she answered.
Norris would get the better of Ricciardo on race day, as he did in nine of the first 10 races of the season.
Ricciardo’s despair is summed up in one shot, where he comes out of the pits after yet another disappointing outing.
“What’s the fine if I don’t do media?” he asks a McLaren team member.
When told that the way he handles the disappointment reveals the type of person he is, Ricciardo’s response gives an insight into his state of mind.
“What if I’m just a c—?” he said.
Following the disaster of Monaco, a race he’d won previously, Ricciardo could offer nothing but an apology to the team on the radio.
“Sorry, obviously painful for everyone,” he said.
“A bit of a weekend to forget.
“Just a s— run, but what do you do?”
Last month Norris signed a new long-term contract with McLaren that will take him through to the end of the 2025 season, reportedly worth $94 million.
Ricciardo has a further two years remaining on his deal, although it’s not known if that includes an option on either side for 2023.
Regardless, the Australian cannot afford another year like 2021.
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