McLaren CEO Zak Brown looks to be playing chicken with Daniel Ricciardo. He awaits the Red Bull driver to walk away from his contract so he doesn’t have to pay a hefty penalty. The 26-year-old has leave provisions in his contract. However, he appears unwilling to fall on his sword to get Brown out of a legal situation he created.
According to multiple sources, Piastri has agreed to terms with McLaren. The 24-year-old says he will not be racing at Alpine in 2023 and sees his future with McLaren.
Piastri, the Formula 2 winner, has a stellar junior record and is regarded as the best graduate from F1’s feeder series. However, his Formula One experience is restricted to F1 car tests, most of which have been paid for by Alpine.
Of course, whether McLaren can even obtain Piastri remains to be seen. Alpine is willing to fight to keep its prodigy in the team, racing for them in 2023. Alpine’s announcement that Piastri will be promoted as the team’s legal position that they had no questions about where he is contractually committed to race next season.
The FIA contract recognition board will make that determination. This may take time to resolve despite the fast-paced drama of Tuesday afternoon.
Whatever happens, McLaren’s attitude appears obvious. It isn’t easy to see how their relationship with Ricciardo will progress beyond this stage.
Ricciardo is deserving of better
It reflects poorly on Brown and McLaren’s treatment of Ricciardo over the last six months. Ricciardo was the first McLaren driver to win an F1 race since 2012. He has been the first to confess that his performances have not been up to the standards he set at Red Bull and Renault. Still, it appears he has been used as a scapegoat to divert attention away from the team’s more profound issues.
Other tales in 2022, such as Mercedes’ crazily bouncing car or repeated Ferrari capitulations, have diverted attention away from the truth that McLaren has been one of the season’s most disappointing stories. The team began the year promising a comeback to the top of the grid. A significant technical rule change gave them an opportunity. But still, they fell far short of what they had promised for 2022.
Ferrari, with whom McLaren fought for third in last year’s championship, has jumped to the front with their new car this year. The British team has floundered in the same no-man’s-land it found itself in last year and is locked in a battle for fourth (and now, Piastri) with Alpine.
So, while Ricciardo has struggled and Norris, who is likely a generational talent but has yet to win a race, has been achieving considerably better results in the other car, the bottom truth is that McLaren has provided another uninspiring and underperforming car.
McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo is one of the most distinct characters in Formula 1. Piastri, a relative unknown outside of motor racing, would not be able to replace the void left by Ricciardo, considered one of the most distinct characters the sport has seen in a long time.
Ricciardo’s Professional Handling of the Situation
Ricciardo deserves credit for handling an unpleasant situation professionally. This comes with Brown adding three drivers to McLaren’s stable — Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, and Alex Palou — and making no secret of his desire to bring Piastri aboard. McLaren boss Brown has already shown contempt for contractual agreements this year. Ricciardo deserves credit for how he handled himself in an unpleasant situation.
McLaren’s boss was in talks with Piastri and his manager Mark Webber, according to sources close to the F1 paddock. Ricciardo is also involved in McLaren’s commercial work behind the scenes. With that backdrop, many things are happening outside the race track that may distract a driver from the job of racing.
Daniel Ricciardo has remained professional in the face of Brown’s manoeuvring. His statement last month that he intended to see his contract until the end of 2023 is as close to a public disagreement with his boss as we’ve seen him. Most drivers would have felt disrespectful, and some would have expressed their displeasure in the media.
Ricciardo accepts the truth that he must examine his alternatives outside of McLaren. OTeams sounding out a driver during the summer months is not uncommon in F1. But at his best, he would still command the attention of teams up and down the grid. He’s one of the most sought-after drivers in America.
Ricciardo has a contract option to leave McLaren. He could see the position Piastri does not want at Alpine as an excellent landing location. A transfer to Ferrari or Mercedes appears doubtful. Still, he may find solace in the examples of Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas this year, who joined competitive midfield teams and flourished.
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