- Photo credit: McLaren

Ricciardo vs. Sainz: The rivalry nobody is talking about

Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz have a checkered, somewhat awkward past, linked by an innate rivalry; is there more to come from this duel in 2021?

6w ago
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Touch-and-go history

As mentioned, the relationship between McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz has been subtly present, but never openly aggressive on track. The two have an uncommon bond in the world of Formula 1 that seems to follow them wherever they go: their seats.

Photo credit: McLaren

Photo credit: McLaren

In Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ documentary, the Spaniard revealed that he was ‘hurt’ by Renault giving away the car which he had developed and raced for two years. Ironically though, despite losing his seat to Ricciardo, it turned out to be a blessing for Sainz, who inherited one of the open seats at McLaren after Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne made their exits.

Even though it took him a few races to get up to speed and grow his confidence, Sainz was soon fighting with a vengeance in the McLaren. During his first season with the British marque, he scored his maiden podium in Formula 1 and finished 6th in the Drivers’ Championship with 96 points. Conversely, his successor at Renault endured a tough season which saw him finish 9th with just 54 points.

It is highly likely that Ricciardo felt some level of bitterness toward his Spanish rival, for always seeming to be one step ahead and making the better career move. Many people would hastily discount this possibility on the grounds that Ricciardo is ‘just too nice,’ but in reality, nobody truly knows the personality of a Formula 1 driver. Given the high-intensity, mentally-taxing environment, it would not be surprising for Ricciardo to have emotions like these running through his mind.

While the pair seemed to follow the same pattern as Sainz moved to Ferrari and Ricciardo inherited the McLaren seat, these transfers cannot be viewed in the same light. Both moves were voluntary and not the result of someone’s seat being double booked, but if any party was offended in the 2021 shuffle, it was Renault; team principal Cyril Abiteboul was initially hurt that Ricciardo ‘jumped ship’ so soon.

Abiteboul explained, “every single one of us at Renault, our focus is on the stability of the team. Pure focus on this season’s performance. We need to be in a position for podiums and then fight for wins then fight for championships - but Daniel has put a stop to all of that.

“What’s hurting the most is [that] it’s not the long-term project I thought we signed up for.”

The frustration felt by Abiteboul is perfectly understandable, but perhaps a bit unfair to Ricciardo. The Aussie’s 2019 season was not one of smooth sailing, and 2020 proved even further that McLaren were top of the midfield pack; in Ricciardo’s eyes, he saw an opportunity to be even more successful and inch closer to the World Champion dream, which was a gamble he decided to take.

The 2021 season so far

Both Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are now in the process of acclimating themselves with new machinery, and have had what can be classified as neither ground-breaking nor displeasing debuts with Ferrari and McLaren. Both have achieved impressive results, considering their infancy with the teams, but both have struggled at some points to extract the most out of their cars.

Photo credit: Ferrari

Photo credit: Ferrari

Both drivers have experienced near identical starts to the season, beginning in Bahrain, where Ricciardo finished P7 in the Grand Prix with 6 points, just ahead of Sainz in P8 with 4 points. From there, the pair went head to head at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, with Sainz crossing the line in P5 for Ferrari and earning 10 points, edging out Ricciardo in P4 with 8 points. The Portuguese Grand Prix was the first interruption of this pattern, where Ricciardo finished P9 and received only 2 points, with Sainz P11 - one place outside of the points.

This neck-and-neck battle has placed Ricciardo 7th in the Drivers’ Championship after the opening three races, racking up 16 points, and Sainz 8th with 14 points. One can only imagine that, as both drivers become more accustomed to their race craft, the results will improve and the already narrow gap will shrink. It is very possible that Ricciardo and Sainz will remain within one position and a few points of each other all season long, but hopefully further up the Championship totem poll.

In terms of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of this fight, there presumably won’t be much coverage; if it has been allowed to slip under the radar of so many fans and media outlets for this long, the only things Ricciardo and Sainz are attempting to prove is their own worth to McLaren and Ferrari and their superiority over one another. Regardless of who’s taking notes, it will be a battle worth watching.

The fight is very much on

McLaren and Ferrari are arguably the most prominent contenders for midfield champion in 2021, but there is already a lurid sub-rivalry developing between them. One which was neglected until Netflix got their cameras out. From now until the end of the season, keep your eyes on the Honey Badger and the Chili - things might get spicy.

Tune into F1TV and Sky Sports F1 on Friday at 09:30 GMT for FP1 ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

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