The McLaren Reformation, part two: Ricciardo signs for 2021
McLaren on the rise, with a brilliant driver signing to boot.
Last week, us F1 fans were treated to some devilish news for 2021. Firstly, Sebastian Vettel announced his departure from Ferrari at the end of the year and speculation rose multiple drivers to the top of the list as his replacement for 2021. Carlos Sainz, who had a standout 2019 season with McLaren, emerged victorious but before we got the confirmation from Ferrari that it was to be Sainz, McLaren themselves briefly let the cat out of the bag. Roughly an hour before Sainz was properly confirmed at the team for 2021, McLaren announced that they themselves had made a starring sign for next season, Renault's Daniel Ricciardo.
A bit of background information here for you. After making the shock announcement back in the summer of 2018 that he was to depart Red Bull, McLaren was initially his main target. However, McLaren CEO Zak Brown recently admitted in an interview with Sky Sports F1 that Daniel was wary of such a move given the team's poor seasons in 2017 and 2018, which Brown understood due to none of the planned team restructuring had taken place then, and so the Renault deal was born.
However, two years on, McLaren are the team on the up with a very bright future after the team restructuring, the signing of Porsche's former LMP1 leader Andreas Seidl as the new team principal as well as their own home bred superstar Lando Norris in the second car, as well as the recent installation of a wind tunnel at the team's base, something they didn't have when they were even championship contenders.
Despite speculation of a move in 2019, Daniel Ricciardo joins McLaren from Renault for 2021. (Renault F1 Team.)
From a company that once used to be serious and formal team, which inevitably crumbled under the hands of Ron Dennis, now looks like a fun, positive and exciting company to be a part of that doesn't take itself too seriously, which was strongly represented by the on-track performances and the attitude of the team last year. Daniel is going to fit in perfectly.
It was amazing to see McLaren's resurgence last season. With Sainz at the wheel and starting plum last in twentieth position, the team got their first podium since the 2014 Australian Grand Prix at Brazil with a post-race promotion to third after Lewis Hamilton was penalised for a collision with Alex Albon in the late stages of the race. Sainz himself managed a best championship position of sixth and the team as a whole finished fourth in the championship, the team's best finish since 2012, and ahead of Renault themselves, who currently supply the team with their power units.
It is also noting that through overall pace performance, the team improved remarkably over the year. From a deficit of roughly 1.2 seconds slower per lap to frontrunners Mercedes at the season opener in Melbourne, McLaren had dropped that down to roughly 0.8 seconds by the US Grand Prix at Austin. Not a gain that would trouble the frontrunners, but a promising step forward all the same.
There is also the exciting news that from 2021, McLaren will partner once again with Mercedes. This of course is very good news considering that from the start of the V6 Turbo Hybrid era, Mercedes has been at the fore of developing competitive, consistent and most importantly, reliable power units. One must wonder where McLaren would be today if the Honda deal never materialised and the team stayed with Mercedes units.
Lando and Daniel get on incredibly well, which again will be a bonus for the team. Who can forget the why side achingly funny moment when Lando started crying with laughter when Daniel asked him if he had grown pubes at the British Grand Prix last year. Or when Lando shoved Alex Albon into an unsuspecting Ricciardo in the paddock. Truly comical moments, and as we saw last year with Lando and Carlos and their tomfoolery, a positive driver relationship really boosts the morale of the team.
I do not question Daniel's abandonment of Renault to McLaren one bit as I cannot see Renault going anywhere any time soon, especially with the recent news of budget cuts amassing $2 billion are to make way to the Renault company, you have to expect that maybe their time in F1 could be very well limited. McLaren are the exact opposite. A team on the up. I would have liked to see Carlos build that team around him with the Mercedes unit in 2021 and deliver some much awaited success, but now it is finally Ricciardo's realistic chance. With that, you cannot appreciate enough how McLaren handled the news of Sainz's departure.
Zak Brown admitted that he fully understood why Sainz chose Ferrari due to the nature and the history of the team and assured Sainz and his family that there is no animosity over the move and that he will always be a friend to McLaren. On the upside, Brown used the example of the signing of Ricciardo, a proven race winner during his Red Bull days, as proof that the team were on the up at last. I think it is going to be a bright future for the much loved team from Woking. We will just have to see how 2020 goes, but for 2021 I suspect that they could become a team to once again be reckoned with at the sharp end of the grid.
Myself, somebody who doesn't like change, didn't like Zak Brown when he took the helm of the team in 2017, but I cannot commend him enough for the changes he made to the team. The team are positive and happy, the drivers are motivated and excited, and Zak himself seems like an amazing guy. I am confident that in the years to come that, with the new regulations coming onboard in 2022, the team will finally start making it's much-awaited return to the top of the grid and indeed to podiums and victories. The McLaren Reformation is born.