Teammate rivalries in spotlight on Formula One circuit


McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo isn’t the only one who’s a step behind his teammate in 2022.

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New car, new season, same old problem for Daniel Ricciardo.

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Since joining McLaren last year, the outgoing Australian struggled to match the pace of teammate Lando Norris despite taking the outfit’s first win in a decade when he scored his eighth Formula One victory in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix.

Much of Ricciardo’s troubles in 2021 stemmed from the braking characteristics of the car that seemed to mute his strengths rather than amplify them. This year, the McLaren still doesn’t seem to agree with Ricciardo, who arrived at the Canadian Grand Prix with 15 points compared with his teammate’s 50.

“Some things the car did last year, I think it still does this year, if that makes sense, so it’s still trying to get on top of that,” Ricciardo said.

“I like pressure. It’s a good platform to perform on and it’s also why I signed up to this. I love it. Success after struggle always tastes a little sweeter, so that’s what I look forward to.”

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The fundamental difference between the 2021 car and the one on track this year is the way that it produces downforce. Long story short, last year’s car did it using countless aerodynamic bits on the top, while this year’s version uses low air pressure underneath that sucks it onto the racetrack.

For Ricciardo, it’s been a case of plus ça change.

“Daniel’s got a great reputation — if you look over the years, he’s been really brave person on the brakes in overtaking and that’s when he was able to apply maximum attack on the brakes and carry some of it into the corner,” said McLaren executive technical director James Key.

“I think there are probably aspects of this car that make it more difficult to do that, and they’re heavier cars than last year as well.”

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Ricciardo isn’t the only one who’s a step behind his teammate in 2022.

Early championship leader Charles Leclerc clearly outperformed his Ferrari stablemate Carlos Sainz in the first eight races, taking six poles and two wins. In the four races they’ve both finished, Leclerc crossed the line ahead on three occasions and the one occasion he didn’t was due to a blown strategy call by the team.

“The year hasn’t been an easy year for me, it’s not a secret,” said Sainz, who was 33 points behind Leclerc heading into Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.

“I’m not feeling as comfortable as last year, when I was neck-and-neck with Charles. I feel like I’m making some progress, and I think sooner or later it’s going to come.”

At first blush, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton also appears to be on his back foot compared with new teammate George Russell. The newcomer scored top-5 finishes in all eight races before Canada and amassed 37 more points. Hamilton has four top-5s.

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who called the 2022 Mercedes a “s–tbox” on several occasions, feels that the raw results don’t tell the story.

“It’s a fundamental car issue; the drivers are on the same level,” Wolff said.

“I don’t think you can say that just because George has outscored Lewis in the points that there is an outperformance. I don’t see that one has a better handle on the car.”

On the other side of the equation is Sergio Perez, who joined Red Bull Racing last season and stepped into a car that didn’t suit his style as well as his new teammate — and eventual 2021 F1 champion — Max Verstappen.

So far in 2022, Perez’s pace compares well to the reigning world champion.

“This year, I can feel that already from the first practice session I can start working on the car instead of working how to exploit the maximum out of the car, so that’s a huge difference,” Perez said.

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“When I go into qualifying, I’m much more prepared and similarly when I go into the race, I think, ‘yeah, we’ve got a good platform.’ ”

Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen, who got a last minute call to replace Nikita Mazepin after the Russian was dumped following his home country’s invasion of Ukraine, is another who really seems able to get the most from the 2022 car.

Magnussen emerged as the star of the early races, matching the Haas team’s highest finish of fifth in the season opener in Australia and then posting the team’s best-ever qualifying of fourth in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Meanwhile, his teammate, second-year driver Mick Schumacher, remained pointless heading into the Canadian Grand Prix.

The Danish driver chalked it all up to simply liking his car.

“It’s nothing in particular, the car is good, so I’m kind of driving to the best of the car,” he said.

“They do feel a little different: They rotate slower, they don’t brake as late, but they are nice to drive and we can push them better. It makes it more fun in my mind.”

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