F1: What Spielberg Taught Us About The Future Of McLaren

By Eoin Harrington

The F1 circus arrived in Austria this weekend for round 11 of the championship. It was a weekend that would prove tumultuous but, ultimately, surprisingly successful for one of F1's most iconic teams.

McLaren have been one of the surprise packages this season - and not for the right reasons. The only F1 team to take a 1-2 finish last year, they were unlucky to miss out on another race win in Russia in 2021, and similarly unlucky to miss out on 3rd in the championship to Ferrari.

2022 has brought a dire turnaround for the team. On pace, they were effectively the slowest team at the season opening race in Bahrain, in a shocking turn of events from their consistent 2021 pace. Things have improved somewhat since then and, despite their struggles, they are still the only team other than Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull to take a podium this season with Lando Norris at Imola.

Things looked to have hit another low point after qualifying in Austria, where Norris and teammate Daniel Ricciardo lined up P15 and P16 on the grid. Through a combination of good fortune and some handy driving from Norris and Ricciardo, the team managed to salvage a double points finish from Sunday's rice, with Norris finishing P7 and Ricciardo P9.

Scratch under the surface, though, and something is still not right at McLaren. Despite his strongest performance in months, this weekend raised fresh questions about the future of Daniel Ricciardo in F1.

Austrian F1 GP: Daniel Ricciardo's F1 place in jeopardy

This weekend in Austria saw the fifth iteration of the polarising "F1 Sprint" format, with a shorter race on Saturday afternoon setting the grid order for Sunday's GP.

After collisions further ahead in the early stages, the McLarens found themselves running 11th and 12th for the majority of the sprint. Despite struggling in qualifying on Friday, Daniel Ricciardo's pace looked stronger than his teammate's throughout the sprint race. Despite this, he appeared to be instructed to remain behind his teammate, with the team's communication with the Aussie sorely lacking throughout.

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There is no denying that this year has, somehow, been worse than 2021 for Daniel Ricciardo thus far. Prior to Austria, the Honey Badger had only finished in the top ten on two occasions from the first ten races, and it is a sad indication of how he has fallen that his exit from Q1 during Friday qualifying came as no real shock to F1 fans.

READ HERE: Daniel Ricciardo: Where Has It All Gone Wrong For The Smiling Assassin?

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The former Red Bull and Renault man joined McLaren while both were on the up after the 2020 season, but he has consistently struggled ever since - other than that magical weekend in Monza last September.

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Austria was a welcome return to form on Saturday and Sunday, with Ricciardo contending for big points positions. That is why the team's insistence on keeping him behind Norris on Saturday was particularly baffling. For one, Ricciardo seemed to have stronger pace than his teammate and, with Lewis Hamilton ahead struggling to clear the Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher, the potential for a top eight finish and some additional points may have been thrown away for the sake of keeping the McLarens line astern.

It is for that reason that Austria - despite being arguably Ricciardo's strongest race weekend in months - may be the most worrying omen of his F1 future.

There are countless youngsters waiting in the wings should McLaren choose to cut the cord on the eight-times race winner. Rumours circulated during the race weekend that McLaren would hijack Williams' bid to bring F2 champion Oscar Piastri to F1, while IndyCar hotshot Colton Herta tested last year's McLaren F1 car at Portimao in Portugal over the weekend.

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McLaren's own IndyCar team features youngster and championship contender Patricio O'Ward, meaning that Daniel Ricciardo's place in F1 is by no means safe.

It seems ludicrous to say after a race in which he finished P9 and helped the team to a solid double points finish, but Ricciardo looks like he is in trouble. Perhaps not for 2023, if McLaren CEO Zak Brown quotes from soymotor are to be believed:

We're going to do everything we can to get him back into shape. We're going to try to do everything for him, work incredibly hard because we know what can win us races.

Can he do it? It depends on the car we give him, but what we ask of him is clear: that he be at Lando's level, either slightly ahead or behind.

We have seen that when we give him a car capable of winning, he can do it.

He admits that last year wasn't a great season, but he won a race. So we have to find a way to unlock him and give him a car he feels comfortable with.

Similarly, team principal Andreas Seidl admitted that Ricciardo's struggles are not entirely down to the driver.

Nonetheless, actions speak louder than words and, over the course of the Austria weekend, the actions of McLaren in holding Ricciardo behind Norris and offering test drives to young drivers elsewhere has certainly done nothing to inspire confidence in the Aussie's F1 future.

One senses that Daniel Ricciardo needs some big results in the final two races before the summer break if he is to secure his Formula 1 future - if he can beat Lando Norris in France and Hungary, that will be a good start.

Wrapping up from the Austrian Grand Prix

Position Driver Team Points Race wins
1st Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing-RBPT 208 6 (+2 sprint wins)
2nd Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 170 3
3rd Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing-RBPT 151 1
4th Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Ferrari 133 1
5th George Russell Mercedes AMG F1 128 0
  • Driver of the day: He damn well needed a win (especially after Max won the sprint race) and it was a mighty drive that delivered 25 points for Charles Leclerc. He overtook Max Verstappen not once, not twice, but thrice on track to take a memorable win and give himself a fighting chance of at least making a battle out of this year's F1 drivers' championship.
  • Day to forget: The entire weekend was one to forget for the F1 event organisers. From awful reports of misogyny and targeted abuse among the fans, to fines for drivers discontented with race direction's decision making, the weekend did not reflect well on the sport. After the deplorable recent comments by three time F1 champion Nelson Piquet, it's been a month to forget so far for the sport.
  • The big question ahead of round #12: Will the French GP actually live up to the hype? The much-maligned Paul Ricard circuit is one of the least popular on the calendar and, aside from last season's thrilling chase for the win between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, it has delivered consistently poor races since returning to the calendar in 2018. It will be fascinating to see if this year's new technical regulations improve the racing on the French Riviera.

SEE ALSO: Zhou Guanyu Unharmed Despite Terrifying First Lap Crash At British Grand Prix

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