Crash pinpointed as ‘pivotal’ to Ricciardo decline

As Daniel Ricciardo aims to relive another disastrous season with McLaren at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this week, a dire moment in Baku four years ago is likely to be nagging in the Australian’s mind.

Ex-Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle believes a crash involving Ricciardo and then Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was “pivotal” to his decline – and so does Ricciardo.

“I struggled to let that go, the whole race and the aftermath,” Ricciardo told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald a year after the incident.

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“That played a part in my decision to leave (Red Bull). I never really felt the same after that.

“As soon as I crashed into him, part of me felt, ‘You guys deserved this, that was a shit show’.”

Verstappen twice adjusted his line in a bid to block Ricciardo from overtaking and the second movement resulted in a calamity, with both crashing out of the race.

Verstappen was also only in the lead because Red Bull had overcut him.

But Red Bull refused to place more blame on Verstappen, adding to Ricciardo’s anger.

Of course what’s happened since is Ricciardo left Red Bull at the end of the 2018 world championship, had two grim seasons with Renault and has continued to fail at McLaren.

The 32-year-old’s struggles with the Surrey-based team have put him in serious danger of being punted with a year to run on his contact.

“He could easily have won that year without that sort of unnecessary crash there with Max,” Brundle said of the 2018 Baku crash in a Fox Sports interview.

“Perhaps that was the moment when he realized they could only really love one driver and it was going to be Max going forward.

“In a way I’m sure, if you could rewind, he probably would have stayed at Red Bull and made it work. But it’s really hard when you know you’re not the favored one.”

Ricciardo finished eighth in the 2021 standings and has slide even further this season, with the Western Australian sitting in 11th after the opening seven rounds.

His rocky time at McLaren has been compounded by the rapid rise of teammate Lando Norris, who finished sixth in 2021 and is running seventh this season.

Norris was in an agonizing fight with tonsillitis at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, but the Briton still managed to score eighth, Ricciardo only collecting 12th.

“It’s those moments that are sort of damaging him,” Brundle said.

“I don’t think it’s all about Lando. I think Daniel’s not performing at his absolute best.

“I wouldn’t profess to know what’s going on in his head, but I know he’ll be just really disappointed and troubled with the lack of speed at the moment.

“Something is not working, and I think the problem is that McLaren, if Daniel’s qualifying outside the top 10 and racing outside the top 10 and long way behind his teammate, they can’t afford to take that into next season. It’s too critical .

“I think decisions will have to be made in the next few months. This is a very fast-moving business. I don’t think either of them all want to take this kind of form into 2023.”

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