Daniel Ricciardo gave a remarkable performance on his Formula One return, outpacing his new teammate Yuki Tsunoda. As a result, he will be lining up 13th for the upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix happening this Sunday.
Coming in under AlphaTauri, one of the less competitive teams on the grid, Ricciardo has his work cut out. His challenge is to consistently outperform Tsunoda, who drives the same car and is his only comparison. This is seen as a major stepping stone for Ricciardo, aimed at convincing Red Bull that he can replace Sergio Perez in the future.
Ricciardo showed some remarkable prowess this Saturday, outqualifying Tsunoda already on his first attempt as Tsunoda failed to surmount the Q1 session. “I had no idea where to expect to be on the grid,” Ricciardo admitted post the session, with 13th place not feeling particularly significant to him. He added, “Of course, my reference is Yuki for now. Watching from the outside, he’s a good reference, because not only this year, but already the second half of last year, I could see with Pierre [Gasly], he was starting to be a lot more competitive.”
After enduring two challenging seasons with McLaren, where he struggled with the car dynamics, Ricciardo took a year off. His difficulty lied in adapting his driving style to McLaren cars that exhibited a sensitivity to corner entry. This proved detrimental to his performance, leading to a dip in both confidence and results, barring his surprise win at the Italian Grand Prix in 2021.
Ricciardo‘s return with AlphaTauri seemed fairly smooth. From the moment he hit the tracks on Friday, he felt a marked sense of comfort in the car – a feeling he frankly missed in his time with McLaren. “Already in one lap of driving the car, I was filled with a bit of confidence,” Ricciardo stated, adding, “I wasn’t at the limit yet, but I felt like it was responding the way I was anticipating.”
This newfound comfort allowed Ricciardo to push the AlphaTauri car with more confidence. Despite being aware of the potential hurdles ahead, he felt relaxed and excited to be back on the racing tracks and navigating limits again. He believes that taking some time off was beneficial to his mental state and has rekindled his passion for racing.
Since the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ricciardo hasn’t been able to complete a race distance, or undertake extended laps continuously in his new car. He is under no illusions that this is something that will affect his performance on Sunday.
“It’s really hard. I’ve done probably only maybe an eight-lap run or something at the moment,” the eight-time race winner comments. He also acknowledges that there will be a significant learning curve in terms of tyre and fuel management. However, Ricciardo remains optimistic, expressing hope that he can be a fast learner as he discovers more about the car and his race management skills.