With the ramifications of the most jaw-dropping lap in Formula 1 history still looming, talkSPORT spoke to the man with the best eyesight in the world, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.
In December, the 2021 world title came down to Max Verstappen’s last-round lunge over Lewis Hamilton, winning one of the most incredible title fights the sport has ever seen.
The pair had been inseparable throughout the 22-race season, heading to the final level of Abu Dhabi on points.
Hamilton looked to be on the verge of a record eighth world title, 12 seconds ahead of Verstappen with five laps to go, but disaster struck.
A Nicholas Latifi crash brought out a safety car, allowing Verstappen to step onto fresh tyres, before arguably the most controversial stewards’ appeal in F1 history allowed cars run in between to pass, leaving Hamilton like a sitting duck.
FIA rules state that all run-in cars must pass, but this was not the case, with the remaining man next in line behind title contenders Ricciardo being the best seat in the house to watch the drama unfold.
The Aussie’s post-race audio captured him saying, ‘That was pretty screwed up’, and the feeling remains, as he told talkSPORT at the launch of McLaren’s 2022 MCL36 challenger.
“It’s because I swore, people love the F-word,” he admitted. “It was more of a bit of a shock, because I was like, ‘Wait, how am I watching the last lap unfold in front of my eyes.
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“I knew Lewis had a relatively comfortable lead, so I kind of knew what the safety car meant, that he was going to lose that lead, so I’m pretty sure I saw Max in the pits, so now Max has new tires and I was like, ‘Oh my God, if they do it again, Lewis will probably lose the title on the last lap’.
“I remember watching it in 2008 and [Felipe] Massa lost on the last lap and I was like ‘I can’t believe this is happening again’ so for some reason I kind of got into Lewis’s head not Max’s head and I was just like, ‘Man, I would hate to be Lewis right now, because it’s a real heartbreak’.
“It seemed quite surreal, and I was dumbfounded, when I watched it in 2008 I was like, ‘This will never happen again, a championship decided in the last lap, this will never happen again’ and I I was behind the wheel watching this happen again so I was pretty shocked.
Ricciardo was one of six different race winners in 2021, taking McLaren’s first victory since 2012 and its first win since 2018.
The 32-year-old has climbed to the top step of the podium eight times in his career, and despite his desperation to consistently compete for wins, Ricciardo admitted there were aspects of the 2021 championship that were certainly off-putting .
“The stuff on the track, yes I’m envious that I’m not part of it, of course I want to fight wheel to wheel for wins and obviously if you come out on top that’s the most powerful feeling of all times,” he said.
“But then I saw how the rivalry was heightened and Abu Dhabi week, you couldn’t escape Max and Lewis, it was everywhere.
“Even on the grid before the race they had them standing side by side, face to face, and I wasn’t jealous of that, I was like yeah, I’m glad I’m not part of that because that looks exhausting and not so fun.
Ricciardo’s 12-year F1 career was a lot of fun though, with the Australian emerging at Toro Rosso as a qualifying master, before earning a reputation as the last of the last breakers at Red Bull.
In his first season with Red Bull in 2014, Ricciardo beat fellow four-time world champion Sebastian Vettlel to finish third in the standings – a feat he achieved again two years later.
Unfortunately for Ricciardo, those incredible seasons coincided with Mercedes’ untouchable era of turbo-hybrid dominance, otherwise we might just be talking about Australia’s third world champion.
Moves to Renault and now McLaren have since followed, with huge podium heights, and Ricciardo feels he is now in good stead.
“I’m happy at McLaren, but to say I really enjoyed my second year with Renault, it was quite a successful year so there are levels of happiness,” he explained.
“I think I’m on a good level here with McLaren, and getting the win at Monza, you could say, justifies that, so I’m in a good position and quite comfortable with where I am.
“Maybe there’s a bit of me that’s old school, but for the most part I like forward thinking, I like progression and I like evolution, I guess.
“It’s really refreshing to see someone like [team principal] Andreas Seidl who is part of this even older generation, if you will, and he’s been through a lot and he’s with an open mind, “OK, I don’t care what I did 10 years ago, I don’t care what made me win 10 years ago, I’m going to do today what makes this team better.’
“I really like it and even with Lando [Norris] contract extension, he really likes the team and in a way, performance aside, he wants to be at McLaren because he knows that in a happy environment he will achieve good results.
Last season, Hamilton and Verstappen battled it out on a level even for their teammates.
However, Ricciardo’s victory in Italy was the only exception, in a league of its own as soon as he took a first dive past Verstappen.
A new era of rules promises to shake up the grid from 2022, meaning Ricciardo’s undoubted championship potential could soon be unlocked with a winning car.
Last year ex-teammate Verstappen claimed his first crown, and when asked who would be next to crack his duck, McLaren’s optimism was reflected in Ricciardo’s vintage style.
“Uh, what’s his name… it’s me!” he has answered.
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