Daniel Ricciardo has revealed the reason behind his “pretty difficult” decision to join McLaren in 2021 despite having no incline on the true pecking order for 2020.
Ricciardo will replace Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz at the Woking-based outfit next year, signing a multi-year deal to be paired alongside the team’s junior protege Lando Norris.
The Australian penned a shock two-year contract with Renault in mid-2018, but endured a tough first campaign with the French manufacturer that failed to meet expectations.
McLaren’s form completely transformed in 2019 following its divorce from Honda and on-track struggles the previous season, finishing fourth in the overall standings – its best finish in the V6 hybrid era.
The team announced last year it had struck an engine deal with Mercedes from 2021, and with that in prospect – and McLaren’s clear step in performance – Ricciardo was convinced it was the right place to be for the future.
“Obviously the reality is, you get pitches from whichever team is talking to you and to some extent, especially now without having any races and any kind of proof, other than last year, you kind of have to believe,” Ricciardo told the F1 Nation Podcast.
“It’s kind of what pitch do you, maybe even ‘believe’ is too much. But what pitch excites you more than the other?
“You’re going with obviously what you feel and think at the time. Who knows? If I go back to last year, last year’s our best reference for now.
“They [McLaren] were the team that made the most noise – Mercedes won the championship again – but it was quite clear to most that McLaren was the team that made the biggest step out of all. So that was encouraging obviously for them and that’s really all you can kind of base it off and their pitch for the future.
“Obviously they’re switching power units and all that. Yeah, there’s a bit that I guess they’re excited about for now. Talking about it is certainly tough as it was by no means an easy decision, as you can imagine, and not having really much to gauge from 2020 was pretty difficult.”
Asked why he committed to McLaren so early, even before a wheel had been turned in anger in 2020, Ricciardo said he didn’t want to lose the seat given how quickly the driver market had played out in recent months.
“I think obviously Vettel’s announcement or news with Ferrari kind of sparked everything, and then things were moving pretty quickly around Carlos and all the other stuff,” Ricciardo said.
“I don’t think there was, although it seemed like maybe there was still time, I don’t actually think there was, to make movement, if that’s what you were kind of going for.
“If we start racing – and this is all just obviously what I’m playing in my head – if you start racing in July, which wasn’t 100%, let’s say we did, which we are by the looks of it, you’ve then got a few races.
“You’re not going to find out [everyone’s form] in the first race, the second race – you’re probably going to wait ‘til August, maybe even September ‘til you really know where everyone’s at. And I think by then it was going to be too late to get something you were really after.”