Mika Hakkinen: “Very difficult” for Ricciardo to revive F1 career | Top Gear
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Mika Hakkinen: “Very difficult” for Ricciardo to revive F1 career

Two-time world champ believes Daniel Ricciardo faces an uphill battle to get back on the F1 grid

Published: 05 Jan 2023

Fan-favourite Daniel Ricciardo - who lost his seat with McLaren after two disappointing seasons with the team - will struggle to regain a spot on the F1 grid in 2024, according to two-time world champ Mika Hakkinen.

Ricciardo was consistently outperformed by teammate Lando Norris, and despite scoring McLaren’s first win in nine years at Monza in 2021, the Aussie simply couldn’t master the characteristics of the MCL35 or MCL36 in his two campaigns with the Woking outfit.

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Speaking to TG at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (shortly before it was announced that Ricciardo would take up a reserve driver role with Red Bull in 2023), Hakkinen said it would be “very difficult” for the 33-year-old to mount a comeback.

“I left Formula 1 in 2001. I was two times world champion, and I had a chance to have a sabbatical year,” explained Hakkinen. “He is leaving Formula 1 unfortunately when he is kicked out.

“So if you have a sabbatical and you want to come back, how can you prove you can be better? How can you prove you are a faster driver than ever? There’s a young generation, rookies coming to Formula 1: can you prove ‘I’m quicker than them’?

“I have to apologise, I sound so negative. But it’s a reality. And it’s a very challenging situation for him. But everybody I think in this paddock likes him. He’s a very nice person, with a great sense of humour. Fans like him. But unfortunately teams like McLaren, they want to have a winner.”

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Let’s not forget, Danny Ric is a winner. Eight times he’s taken the chequered flag in F1 as well as 32 podium finishes, albeit mostly from his Red Bull days. Surely that’ll count for something when teams weigh up their options for next year?

“But you have always the room to compare,” Mika insists, “and this comparison with Lando [Norris] was not successful. One tenth, two tenths, I can live with that. But if you are more than that, then it’s not good for the development of the car.

“And if you are more than that behind your teammate, then that requires a different kind of development for the car. And this development is not good for the team.”

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A conclusion that McLaren CEO Zak Brown must’ve reached last year, with the company no doubt spending untold millions to buy Ricciardo out of the remaining year of his contract while securing the services of Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri.

All isn’t lost for Ricciardo though: Kimi Raikkonen left the sport at the end of 2009 and returned two years later, with his second stint in F1 proving longer than his first. And a 41-year-old Fernando Alonso is still churning out incredible performances, despite taking two years out after quitting McLaren in 2018.

“It’s easier for them because they chose to go away,” says Hakkinen. “They’re world champions. Very simple answer… It sounds horrible! I feel like I say such bad things here. It’s just a reality. This business here, you know? It just doesn’t give you mercy.”

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