Daniel Ricciardo might sit well outside the top 10 in the F1 driver rankings but he remains one of the sport’s most popular figures.
And his army of supporters was out in full force after it was revealed McLaren plans to replace him with young Australian driver Oscar Piastri next season despite Ricciardo being contracted for 2023.
The 33-year-old’s career has been on some what of a downward spiral since his days of outdriving Sebastian Vettel and regularly challenging Max Verstappen at Red Bull. But no one wants to see it end this way.
ESPN’s Nate Saunders reported four teams have sounded Ricciardo out recently to “see where his head is at” and slammed McLaren for its treatment of the Aussie.
“It reflects very poorly on Brown and McLaren how they have treated Ricciardo over the past six months,” Saunders wrote. “Ricciardo, the only McLaren driver to have won an F1 race since 2012, has been the first to admit his performances have not been up to the standards he set at Red Bull and Renault but it feels as though he has been made as a scapegoat to deflect away from deeper problems at the team.”
He wasn’t alone in hailing the Aussie’s class during a turbulent season.
“Amid all the rumpus and pressure you have to commend Ricciardo on his grace and professionalism over these last few months,” tweeted Tom Gaymor. “El Says everything about him as a man, he is a class act and I hope he keeps smiling and doing it his way.”
But others saw it differently, believing Ricciardo is a spent force and he’s replacement is part and parcel of the cut throat nature of F1.
“Ricciardo is getting a taste of his own medicine when he left Renault to join McLaren and this is proof that that was not right move for him,” tweeted Sahil Mohan Gupta. “Now, he will probably end up at Alpine if not leave F1. This is crazy.”
“I’ll always be a fan of Ricciardo, but can you really blame McLaren?” added Gannon Burgett. “They’re paying him out the ass for a driver who’s scored only 20% of the team’s points so far.”
“Please Alpine don’t take him back!” Tiff Needell tweeted. “Love Daniel but he’s had 12 years in F1, stuffed a few million in the bank and there’s lots of other motorsport he could do. So give someone else a chance!”
Despite the rapid turn of events this week Ricciardo’s future could take a long time to settle because McLaren will likely face a challenge from Alpine over its poaching of Piastri.
The West Australian could spend a year with McLaren’s IndyCar team to see out his deal, or could receive a pay out and join another team. That team could even be Alpine if Piastri is able to leave.
Who is Oscar Piastri?
Born in Melbourne, Piastri joined Alpine’s academy after clinching the Formula Renault Eurocup title in 2019, securing seven wins.
He carried the form into the Formula 3 series in 2020, winning the opening race on his debut and holding his nerve to claim the title by three points in one of the most closely fought championships ever.
The following year he was on the Formula 2 grid, where he clocked six wins to unequivocally announce his arrival on the world stage, becoming just the third rookie champion after Charles Leclerc (2017) and George Russell (2018). They are both now in F1.
Despite his rapid rise Piastri was overlooked for a drive in Formula One this season because of a lack of available seats, instead lurking on the sidelines at Alpine ready to replace either Esteban Ocon or Alonso if they were forced to miss a race.
He’s managed by fellow Aussie and nine-time F1 race winner Mark Webber. “Does he deserve to be in F1? Absolutely, we all know that,” Webber says. “It’s not a question of if, but when.”
The Piastri family say they are “petrol heads” with his father Chris telling The Sydney Morning Herald that “Oscar’s bedtime stories were mainly car books”.
He started racing remote-controlled cars aged six and by nine had graduated to piloting go-karts.
“I think he’s got the determination and the ability and the intellect,” his mother Nicole told The Age newspaper this year of her son’s progression to Formula One.
“I think he’s got everything that’s required to be able to get there and to do a good job, but that’s only one very small factor.
“There are a lot of other things that come into getting a Formula One seat – politics, money, availability of seats.”
Chris Piastri pinpointed Webber’s involvement from Formula 3 onwards as key to helping their son reach his goal, opening funding and sponsorship doors to help with the soaring costs that come with making it as a racing driver.
“Mark knows everybody,” he said. “It was at that point that he started taking over the reins, dealing with the teams, managing Oscar up into the visibility of the teams.”
Webber said it was a “no-brainer” to help out. “It’s hard to turn heads, especially in the F1 paddock, as they are pretty hard to please,” he said.
“But there’s not many people who haven’t mentioned him to me – how impressed they are with him, what he’s doing, the trajectory he is on.”
– with AFP