ONE OF THE most mystifying aspects of the 2021 F1 season to date is the struggle Daniel Ricciardo is having at his new berth of McLaren. Recently in Monaco – where he went out in Q2, almost a second slower than teammate Lando Norris, who qualified fifth and who lapped him in the race – was the furthest off has been all year.
Most recently in Azerbaijan, as we went to press, he was again out-qualified by Norris by 0.8sec, and finished ninth to Norris’s fifth place.
So what’s happening? In a Sky TV interview in Monaco, Ricciardo explained how he’d bumped into his McLaren predecessor, Carlos Sainz, who asked Ricciardo, ‘What do you think? Strange, eh?’ talking of the car. “Thanks for telling me!” Ricciardo responded.
What they were referring to was how the McLaren likes to be driven with what for a car wearing Pirelli tyres is a lot of overlap in the braking and cornering phases, especially into slow corners.
In classical race driving theory, as expounded in the ’50s by Piero Taruffiand in the ’70s by Mark Donohue, it’s the fastest way, as the driver is accessing the tyre’s full potential for a greater period of time. Some of the greatest exponents of this particular art include Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher.
But the Pirelli tyres generally don’t react well to the technique; don’t like being loaded up under braking and cornering simultaneously. Except if you’re Lando Norris. Ever since his F3 days he’s loved a car with a lot of rotation on it, which will respond with very little steering lock, as he uses skillful and subtle manipulation of the car’s weight transfer to help it steer. During his time in F1, all of it at McLaren, he’s managed to prise open a window that allows him to do this even with the Pirellis. The McLaren has generally developed in that direction. Sainz joined the team after Norris had already been testing extensively there and was taken aback at how different the car was both to the Toro Rosso and the Renault he’d previously driven.
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