The 2022 F1 Azerbaijan GP saw Daniel Ricciardo beat his teammate Lando Norris in a straight fight.
Ricciardo, benefitting from the hard tire early in the first stint was able to close the gap on Norris at the start and if it wasn't for the team orders forcing him to hold station, Ricciardo might have got through. He, however, did eventually get the jump over Norris after the pitstops, and both the drivers came in 8th and 9th.
The Australian looked strong throughout the weekend and if we consider Norris as the benchmark at McLaren then Ricciardo was very close to it in qualifying and eventually beat him in the race.
Looking at the Australian's uptick in form all of a sudden does make you wonder why he has been unable to do this more often at McLaren. Perhaps somewhere down the line, Ricciardo's woeful form in the team has not been entirely his fault.
The Azerbaijan GP was another reminder of what Daniel Ricciardo can do in an F1 car
The Azerbaijan GP was vintage Daniel Ricciardo. He was very strong and consistent in qualifying before Lando Norris nicked ahead in the end. Even in the race, if one looks at it carefully, it is obvious that Ricciardo would have been able to score an even better result had he been allowed to pass Norris in the first stint and build a gap for Fernando Alonso's Alpine.
This is not the first time Ricciardo has been able to demonstrate such an ability in this partnership. While Monza does come to mind where Ricciardo beat Norris and won the race, what also comes to mind are a few other races where Ricciardo was very competitive against his teammate.
Daniel Ricciardo has mentioned time and again since the first season that he's not comfortable with the car in braking and slow-speed sections. This has been evident in races like Monaco, where he's just in a different league compared to Norris. Once we move to a track laced with fast-speed sections, however, the Australian comes alive.
Even this season, Ricciardo was destined to score a great result in Saudi Arabia before the car broke down. Similarly, the mistake at Imola ruined his race from a strong grid position while Ricciardo was right on the tail of Norris in the Australian GP.
The issues seem cyclical and resemble last season's case
Having said that, there's still a cyclic nature to the races where Daniel Ricciardo struggles against his teammate. Case in point, the Monaco GP this season was almost a replica of what happened last season as well. Ricciardo lost time left, right, and center at every corner and because of that, he was nowhere close to Lando Norris.
Frustratingly for the Australian, he even looked hopeless at the time because it was the same story last season. Ricciardo ended up having a horrendous race and the sharks came out demanding his head. Now, somewhere down the line, Ricciardo should take a share of the blame. He has been driving for McLaren for almost 18 months now and during this time, he has been unable to adjust his driving style to adapt to the car.
The improvements, however, are surely there for Daniel Ricciardo as compared to last season. Last year at Baku, Lando Norris was comfortably ahead of Ricciardo. That's not the case this year, as Ricciardo was, at worst, on par with what Norris can do in that McLaren. Similarly, there have been other races like Imola, for instance, where Ricciardo has shown improvement as compared to last season.
Overall, have those improvements been sufficient enough? The answer is no, they haven't. And while it's not wrong to point the finger at Ricciardo for his troubles, McLaren too needs to look in the mirror and ask if it has given the driver the tools he needs to win?
Looking at the Monaco GP specifically, a race where Ricciardo was rather left exposed, the answer is no, McLaren hasn't. The team appears to have a certain design philosophy for the car that has not suited the Australian at all. While Ricciardo has certainly made changes to his driving style, McLaren needs to make certain accommodations to its design philosophy this season to help him.
Daniel Ricciardo showed at Baku that he can still produce some strong results, almost as good as his teammate if given the right car. In a relationship that is close to a split right now, the Australian has shown time and again that given the car, he can be as good as anyone on the grid. Maybe McLaren needs to take some accountability as it hasn't given the Australian the tools to showcase his talents either.