Former teammate Sebastian Vettel says he’s “saddened” by Daniel Ricciardo’s axing by McLaren, declaring the team failed to get the best out of the Australian.
After weeks of speculation, McLaren announced in the early hours of Thursday morning they had reached a “mutual agreement” with Ricciardo that he would vacate his seat at the end of the season.
Fellow Australian Oscar Piastri is expected to replace Ricciardo.
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Vettel, who will retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season, was Ricciardo’s teammate at Red Bull in 2014.
“Maybe I have too much empathy for a Formula 1 driver, but (I’m) very saddened by hearing what’s going to happen to Daniel,” Vettel said.
“I think it’s a very, very difficult situation to be in. I think he’s still one of the best drivers.
“I raced against him. I had the pleasure to race against him and the not so pleasurable side of getting beaten by him years ago, and I still think he has very, very much to offer.”
Ricciardo’s stint at McLaren has been underwhelming, leading to the team’s decision to look elsewhere for 2023, even though the Australian had another year to run on his contract.
Vettel said from the outside it appears much of the fault for Ricciardo’s results lies with McLaren.
“I don’t know the details, but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has,” Vettel said.
“It’s sad to see that he’s been put in a difficult position. But I wish him, obviously, all the best and I’m sure that ultimately the talent he has, and the qualities he has, will shine through.”
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ricciardo said while his tenure at Woking had been disappointing, his “will to compete” had not waned, and he wouldn’t take a seat on the grid just for the sake of being in F1.
“I still want it from a competitive point of view, but I’ve never been a guy who wants to be on the grid just for the sake of being on the grid,” he said.
“There are some drivers like that, but that’s not me.
“This isn’t the end for me, but I can’t control anything that lies ahead at the moment. But in terms of me still having the will to compete at the highest level, that’s absolutely still in me. The last 18 months … there’s been some lows, but that will to compete hasn’t gone away.”
Speculation about Ricciardo’s future began around the British Grand Prix, after rumors about where fellow Australian Oscar Piastri would land shifted away from Nicholas Latifi’s seat at Williams.
Since then, the F1 silly season has been in full swing – Vettel announced his retirement, Fernando Alonso moved into his seat at Aston Martin, and Piastri rejected Alonso’s at Alpine.
And the focus on Ricciardo only became sharper. He said the intensity of the speculation had taken its toll.
“When I put the helmet on, I feel confident that there’s a switch that flicks to help shut things out,” he said.
“But we’re not robots, we’re not superhuman, and even if things don’t bother you, they can still affect you and your energy levels. It never helps.”
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The team finished in the top four in the constructors championships in each of the past three seasons.
After a difficult 2021 on his side of the garage, Ricciardo said moving into his second year at the team as well as the regulation change for the start of 2022 raised expectations of an improvement in results.
“The rule changes for this year raised expectations – their expectations of me in year two, but also their expectation of the car,” Ricciardo said.
“Could this be the year the team really makes that step because of the rule changes? It hasn’t happened, so those two things combined – maybe the dream was too high with both of those factors. When it wasn’t happening, it quickly turns to pessimism, and things decline quite quickly.”
It was less than 12 months ago that Ricciardo scored McLaren’s only race win since 2012, and arrives this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix – a track he won at in 2014 while driving for Red Bull.
He said arriving back at Spa-Francorchamps not having a drive in 2023 – not publicly anyway – will be a “weird” feeling.
“It’s less than a year ago that I won Monza … it feels like four months ago, all those feelings are still very clear for me,” he said.
“It’s not through a lack of effort that the results haven’t come, I don’t feel it’s something I’ve brought on myself.
“The highs we’ve had like Monza have been rare, but they don’t get any higher … but those results just weren’t consistent enough. That’s been the struggle in the 18 months with McLaren up to now.
“It’s not something where I wish I’d done something different – I obviously wish the stopwatch had been different in my time here, but it’s not like I was slacking off and got what I deserved.
“I don’t have regrets, but I wish it had have turned out better. There are no regrets in terms of things I could have done to stay here. This is their decision. It’s something I think they felt they needed to do. “
While Alpine remains the obvious landing place for Ricciardo, seats remain vacant at Hass, Williams, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo.
Officially the other seat at Aston Martin remains vacant, although it’s expected Lance Stroll – son of billionaire team boss Lawrence – will continue.
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