Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo all worked their way through the adaptation process, and all had obstacles to overcome.
In Ricciardo’s case, gaining the upper hand on the corner entry and braking was one of the main issues he faced as he tried to match the superb form of his teammate Lando Norris.
Braking has always been one of the Australian rider’s strengths and over the years he has stood out for his daring passing moves.
However, during his transition from Renault to McLaren this year, he struggled to become fully confident as he explored the limits.
He compared the process of adapting his behavior to “going back to school” – this is the level of thought required.
“It’s like being a beginner again, like a tutor at every turn,” he said after qualifying for Barcelona.
“Good job, do it better, alright, improve yourself a little more here. Obviously the feedback I’m getting from the team is good, and they’re obviously trying to get me into some good habits with this. car and type of characteristics.
“So it’s things like that, whether it’s the braking or the way you accelerate. Some of them are unique, and I guess I still have to be a little aware of that, and teach myself enough to make it natural. .
“So that takes a little more thought. I think the quicker corners are a little easier, you kind of throw it away, hold on. But the longer corners you are a bit in the corner for a while. long, and should be quite delicate and precise.
“The car is sensitive, and it performs well in some ways, but not well in others, and I think I’m definitely trying to program myself to learn to drive faster. So I’m back to school.”
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, leaves the garage
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
It may seem strange that an experienced winner of several races like Ricciardo, who has changed teams more than once, finds himself in such a situation with something as fundamental to his profession as braking.
However, it is a much more complicated and complex process than just standing on the pedal.
“Braking is a big hitter in lap time, and Dan has always been a very, very good brakeman,” said McLaren technical director James Key. “We’ve seen some of his passes in the past, and he did it by being very late at the anchors and getting the pass.
“So that’s definitely one of its strengths. I think when switching to a different car you always have to adapt a little bit to how the car feels under braking.
“I think there are a lot of different aspects. The brake system itself is often not the major factor here. We all use very similar materials, very similar systems, etc.
“So when it comes to the feel of the pedal, to an extent there is a bit of variability there. But certainly the bite and the braking performance itself are often very similar.
“I think the differences are things like engine braking, how it works and how to adjust it accordingly.
“How the chassis works, how the aerodynamics work and support the car in certain conditions, is it solid in a straight line, which we’ve always been, or a little weaker if you’re trying to wear the brakes on a turn, or certain types of corners where the braking conditions are different. This is where the differences really get bigger. “
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
Key suggests that the construction of Pirelli’s 2021 tires, which feature revised facades, also played a role in making life difficult for drivers.
“I think what is exacerbated this year is the new tires that we have are also slightly weaker in some conditions than before,” says Key.
“So if you took the tires from last year, they behave a certain way, and probably to be honest, they feel a little more familiar to Daniel for that matter, and Lando and everyone. But this year those tires are slightly weaker in some areas, and slightly stronger in others.
“One of the changes that we’ve noticed is the braking. So it’s just a matter of adapting how you feel and what you want to do to what the car is actually doing. And of course, on our side, trying to do it. adapt the car and facilitate what Daniel is trying to do. And we’re getting there, slowly. “
Ricciardo’s team of engineers have various tools to play with to try and make him more one with the car.
“There are some things we can’t change,” Key says. “The tires and stuff will be the same, but when it comes to how the car behaves, the engine mapping, the feel of the pedal are all things that are in our control, and we’re reducing all of those things to trying to find a solution that works. “
Ricciardo certainly takes steps with the McLaren, and seventh on the Barcelona grid – just over a tenth of fourth place and having lost his last lap in Q3 due to a checkered flag – was still a decent effort. .
“Today we have taken over,” he said. “FP3 was much better and qualifying was like a steady progression, going a little faster with each round. So I certainly felt comfortable.
“I would say I felt good in ten of them, but there are still a handful that I know I can perform better.
“I’m not saying I could have done better today, but I know over time I’m going to start to find those little extra half-tenths here and there to get a little more out of the car.”