McLaren's rumored actions seem on the harsh side. Or are they?
Daniel Ricciardo is one of the most famous, most beloved drivers on the F1 grid. He's not a person people either love or hate, as is the case with the top drivers in the sport. And yet, McLaren is reportedly getting rid of him.
Why? Cast your thoughts back to March 8, 2019. That was when Drive to Survive first hit Netflix, giving F1 fans access to F1 drivers. Daniel Ricciardo was the biggest name signed on during that first year, and we learned so much about the inner workings of an F1 driver via Danny Ric.
He wasn't ashamed to wear his heart on his sleeve, and we loved him for it. For the first time, we got to see an F1 driver as a three-dimensional human with real emotions, and not simply some robot that gets in behind the wheel of the fastest four-wheeled machine on the planet every second Sunday.
Over the years, we saw Ricciardo move from Red Bull to Renault and then on to McLaren. Moving from Renault to McLaren saw him take a massive pay cut, demonstrating how much the championship means to him. Last we heard, McLaren will pay Ricciardo $21 million to walk away from his contract, which is a pretty sweet deal, but not if you just want to race.
It would be ignorant to say that money doesn't play a role, but these guys are racers first and foremost. We do not doubt that most of the drivers on the grid would take a 90% pay cut just to get in the seat of a Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes-Benz.
Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. To become a world champion, so many things have to fall in place perfectly. Over the last two decades, we've only had eight champions: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Jensen Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher. Four of these were multiple world champions.
It's not like there has been a shortage of talent. There are several drivers we'll always wonder about had circumstances been different. Off the top of our heads, we can name Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, Mark Webber, and Daniel Ricciardo. Each of the 20 drivers on the grid believes they have what it takes to be a champ, but only one can wear the crown.
For some, it's just not going to happen, and I think it's time we make peace with the fact that Ricciardo will never be a champion. That's not something to be ashamed of. It's not as if Barrichello, Massa, and Weber will be forgotten anytime soon. All of these non-champions made a lasting impact on the sport.
But is McLaren doing right by Ricciardo?
F1 is a savage sport, and as much as we love the 'secret American,' his performance since leaving Red Bull hasn't been that great. Ricciardo debuted in 2011 with HRT Cosworth, finishing in 27th place on zero points. In 2014, he was picked up by Red Bull and finished third overall. He finished third again in 2016.
That's as high as he ever went as two things were standing directly in his way. First, it was Mercedes' dominance during the first few years of the hybrid era. And then Red Bull signed a young driver named Max Verstappen. Ricciardo beat him once and only once.
See what we mean about the stars aligning perfectly for a championship win? If only Red Bull had become competitive against Mercedes sooner. If only Max Verstappen were born two years later. If only Ricciardo had not left Red Bull in 2018.
But F1 decisions aren't based on what could have been. The bosses base their decisions purely on results, which is a cold, hard fact. Ricciardo finished eighth during his first season with McLaren. His younger teammate easily outclassed him, even though Ricciardo scored McLaren's only victory that season. Just imagine how valuable the 720S inspired by Ricciardo will be one day.
Currently, he's in 12th place. Yes, the McLaren MCL36 seems to be an uncompetitive car, but that hasn't stopped Lando Norris from fighting his way to seventh place.
Still, Ricciardo is a fan favorite. We enjoy having him as part of the grid. He's the comic relief, providing a human element to the sport. He remains the number one reminder that real-life people are inside these helmets and that we should respect that.
Is it enough of a reason to keep him on? Unfortunately, we don't think so.