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Daniel Ricciardo Faces a Critical Moment at the Australian GP

The clock is ticking — and there’s no better time than the present for McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo to take back control of the narrative at his home circuit in Australia.

The Australian Grand Prix arrives Sunday at Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit, and native son Daniel Ricciardo has a lot to prove.

In 2021, his first year with the McLaren Formula 1 Team, Ricciardo finished eighth in the Driver’s Championship standings, three positions worse than in 2020 with Renault. The 32-year-old has opened the 2022 F1 season with a DNF in Bahrain and a 14th-place finish in Saudi Arabia.

In eight previous races at the Albert Park Circuit, the humorous, affable Drive To Survive darling has racked up four DNFs, two fourth-place finishes, and two more unceremonious results in sixth and ninth. But he can change everything for both himself and McLaren with a spirited run Sunday — whether or not the oddsmakers consider it foreseeable.

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After finishing fourth in the Constructor’s Championship race last season behind Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes, McLaren sits in a teeth-gnashing eighth position with just six points after two races, positioned ahead of only Aston Martin — who welcomed back four-time world champ Sebastian Vettel this week — and struggling Williams.

Ricciardo’s no slouch, of course. He won the Italian Grand Prix last season, his first F1 race win since 2018 and a well-documented jolt of catharsis for the Aussie after his first 13 races of the campaign netted only two top-five results. But with Ferrari ascending and Red Bull setting an impressive pace for the year so far, he and his team could seriously use that same jolt again.

Now is the time for Ricciardo to put on a show at his home race, turn around McLaren’s season, and revitalize his F1 career.

Is this race some kind of “must-win”? No, winning even a single Formula 1 Grand Prix is some of the toughest business in the sport. But if Ricciardo loses any more ground in the standings, he’ll be dead-last out of 20. Digging himself out of that sort of rut, as early as it may be in the campaign, would be a brutal challenge the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

The Perth native is under contract with McLaren through 2023, so he’s not one of the 10 F1 primary drivers who will be out of contract at the end of the current season. But he’s also on his third different team in the last five competition years โ€” finishing ninth and fifth in two years at Renault after spending the previous five years at Red Bull Racing. Not for nothing, McLaren teammate Lando Norris is a marketable 22-year-old under contract through 2025.

If Ricciardo doesn’t perform this year, he’ll be under a tremendous amount of pressure, as McLaren would likely have its eyes wandering toward other drivers to pair with Norris despite his and Ricciardo’s reportedly strong rapport.

Daniel Ricciardo of the McLaren F1 Team during interviews ahead of the 2022 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix (Clay Cross ATPImages/Getty Images)

All this drama is taking place amid reports that the Volkswagen-owned duo of Audi and Porsche are looking to buy into Formula 1, with one report suggesting a potential $718 million Audi offer to take over McLaren as one route to doing so. If that deal comes to fruition, do you think VW wouldn’t want influence over who sits in the drivers’ seats?

Ricciardo’s seat would get nice and toasty in a hurry.

(If it isn’t already.)

To be clear, the story of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship very much remains to be written, but the heat will crank up and pressure will mount on both Ricciardo and McLaren the longer points and podiums aren’t produced.

The clock is ticking. But there’s no better time than the present for Daniel Ricciardo to pivot back in the right direction than at his home course in Australia this weekend.

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