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Has Ricciardo got his F1 dance partner back at McLaren?

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After more than a year of struggles at McLaren, where he has more often than not been in the shadow of Lando Norris, there finally appears to be a glimmer of hope that things are looking up.

His improved pace in Baku put him in the window where McLaren had to step in with team orders while their strategy was being developed, and there is a sense that Ricciardo has turned a corner in understanding what he needs to get the most out of his racing car. F1.

The challenge of finding the missing few tenths has not been an easy one for Ricciardo, as it has been more a case of details than something obvious that stands out as a major mistake.

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But, as he explains, sometimes becoming one with a car is something that boils down to a personal feeling rather than something that can be pointed at on a computer screen.

“As a racing driver, we thrive on competition and being competitive,” he said, when asked by Motorsport.com to describe what was missing. “But I think we also thrive on that feeling of hooking up and that feeling of putting the lap together. It’s kind of a powerful feeling.”

“So when you don’t get along with the car, that’s a big part of that feeling that you’re missing.

“It’s like dancing; you want you and your partner to be on the same page. And if you’re not, then it’s a little less enjoyable.”

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, on the grid

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

Ricciardo’s form in Baku suggested he may have gotten his dance partner to keep up, and it seems a post-Monaco GP session in the McLaren simulator at Woking helped unlock some answers.

His weekend in Monaco had been one where things had started well, but then fizzled out: and by digging into the details of what happened there, he helped produce answers for the better elsewhere.

“There are certainly some good signs that have come out of that,” he added. “So I think probably the encouraging part is that we’ve made progress.

“I think there is obviously something that is understood, but then put into practice. There is still more to exploit, but I think that has certainly been a good sign.”

McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl says the main thing Ricciardo lacked was the confidence to find the final tenths in qualifying, which goes back to that dance partner vibe.

Seidl said: “Especially when you go into qualifying and when you have to push this car to the absolute limit, it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as Lando.

“And then he’s missing these last few percentages. That’s where the gap comes from, along with the fact that he’s obviously up against a Lando who is in top form.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images

Being a trustworthy thing also means that it is something that can change like the flick of a switch; instead of needing a specific car part to be designed and manufactured.

“I know I can still do it,” Ricciardo added. “I think in this sport everything works at such a high level and if something is a little bit out of tune then it can have a side effect.”

“So it’s really just for me to get back to that place where I’m in tune, totally in tune, with the car and then it will come. I’ve felt it before, you know, so I think it could come at any circuit and I think from then it will probably start to build up again, a good pace.”

What’s also important to understand is that Ricciardo appears to be finding his footing again, unrelated to Zak Brown’s recent comments in the media about the Australian’s performances.

Brown’s comments that Ricciardo’s form was not living up to expectations sparked a wave of speculation about his future, with some seeing it as a wake-up call.

Not so, says Seidl.

“I don’t think Daniel is a driver, with the experiences he is having, who needs any external pressure to keep working hard to find these last few percentages and feel completely comfortable with the car,” he explained.

“The team after Monaco, together with Daniel, did the same as we always do, and as we do with Lando: trying to study the data obviously in detail to see where we see points for improvement, and this is what happened.

“I have not seen any employee, it does not matter if he is a mechanic, engineer or driver, in the last 20 years I did motorsport, that was improved by being criticized in public.

Like almost everything in F1, progress comes from analysis, searching for answers and hard work.

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