McLaren has one goal in mind for Daniel Ricciardo’s first Formula 1 Grand Prix on board: this team and driver have felt like they’ve been together for years.
With F1’s most compact pre-season testing schedule ever, and tight limits on who could join Abu Dhabi’s young driver race last year, there has been very little time for the new suit to prepare for the challenges of 2021.
But for a team like McLaren, that’s no excuse for early caution or a grace period for Ricciardo and his crew to get to know each other. He knows that in the tough world of F1 he has to hit the ground in Bahrain.
This is why McLaren is embarking on an intensive preparation program for Ricciardo both at its factory in Woking and with some homework that the Australian will have to take with him.
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As McLaren Race Director Andrea Stella said: “Having a new driver on board is always a very interesting challenge. And the approach is that it has to start in qualifying. [at the first race]. Where do we want to be this Saturday?
“Then you work backwards in terms of what you need to do to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. And that’s a combination of skill and being methodical. Because I’m sure everyone, like the engineers, will be eager to share tons of information and solutions with the driver, but in fact you have to do the right things because there won’t be much time to test on the track.
“The goal is to be in the first race, in qualifying, and it’s like Daniel has driven the McLaren and worked with these engineers and the team for a long time.”
Stella says the onboarding process begins long before we think about any test plans or even considerations on the approach to the season opener Bahrain Grand Prix.
At the start of their new relationship, the driver and engineers will get to know each other; and above all to learn the requirements and quirks of each.
“There will be a lot of conversation in January, first of all,” Stella said. “They will have to be personal, individual and relational.
“These will touch the technical element, and these will touch the racing element. It will be like, ‘remember that race when you were very competitive, what made you so competitive in this course? “Then you develop a conversation.
“Then he can say, ‘guys, when you were so good with tire degradation in Bahrain, what did you do to be so competitive? “These will be long, long conversations.
“You have to be generous from this point of view, because it is one of the elements to say that when you are in a race on a Saturday, it is as if you have known each other for a long time, personally, technically, and operationally.”
Some specific tasks will be defined as part of this process: including work on the simulator and some work that Ricciardo will be asked to do at his own pace.
“We’re going, for example, to give him a lot of homework,” added Stella. “We will give him a recording of radio communications of, for example, [last] season.
“We’re going to say, ‘Daniel, now listen to this, and come back to us and tell us what you hear. What would you improve, what you liked, what you didn’t like, how you want to be spoken to, etc. sure?’
“And then there’s the simulator. The simulator is a good way to see how a driver drives. It’s obviously not the same as being in a real car, but it helps a lot in getting all the changes that drivers have to do it right away, in a very natural way. So from that point of view, it’s actually very useful. “
While Ricciardo has shown Renault that it can take over a year to fully integrate and give the best of himself to a team, that doesn’t mean that a lot can be released from the start.
McLaren CTO James Key believes the example of Carlos Sainz Jr, with whom he worked at both Toro Rosso and McLaren, shows exactly what is possible when it comes to bringing in new pilots.
“I did the exact same process for Carlos at Toro Rosso,” Key said of the challenges of getting a new driver into a team.
“After seeing how he progressed as a driver, from that tentative start, where I think he moved up to Q3 in his first race, then he was already on the track.
“But still, I would say he had a lot to learn. He was eager to learn. He knew he needed to gain more experience in tire management. And now you see him as confident. , very knowledgeable, and, highly regarded pilot.
“I think Daniel went through the same process, but earlier. And in the meantime he’s gone to win races too and put himself in that category of driver. So I think he will give us that very good point of reference. .
“It was great working with Toro Rosso because he was already technically very savvy and had exactly the same approach you see now. But since then he’s been through a lot.
“I think as a benchmark for us it will be really interesting. He comes from a competitor and a good Red Bull team before that which will give him ideas and benchmarks that will be a good contribution for us as well. So I look forward to working with him on that basis. “
The F1 season opener may still be over two months ago, but Ricciardo and McLaren are already flat to ensure the season has a good start.