With one race before the end to a troubled season, tempers are frayed and the Honey Badger is still looking for a sweet spot:
No one wants Daniel Ricciardo! With one race left before the season finishes in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, even Haas can’t be blamed if they don’t pick up the phone.
Haas team principal Güenther Steiner has been waiting for Ricciardo to call if he wants a seat with the American team next year.
But that offer soured when the Honey Badger crashed into Haas’s Kevin Magnussen on the first lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The stewards decided K-Mag had done nothing wrong and have penalised Ricciardo three grid positions in Abu Dhabi.
It was a miserable end to the Brazilian race for Ricciardo and just as deflating for Haas with the team on a high after Magnussen put his car on pole for the sprint race.
That was down to the Danish driver as much as the rain that caused confusion among other teams as to which tyres they should run.
Magnussen started eighth in the main race while Ricciardo could manage only 11th.
Teammate Lando Norris started sixth on the grid, out qualifying Ricciardo in spite of suffering from food poisoning.
It has been a sad two seasons for the Honey Badger at McLaren and has finished with him being sacked with a year still to run on his contract.
To add to his embarrassment, Ricciardo is being replaced by Australian rookie Oscar Piastri. The Melbourne driver will be seen alongside Ricciardo in the pit garage at Abu Dhabi after being released from his role as a reserve driver with Alpine.
No one, least of all Ricciardo, can explain why his career has collapsed. He has won eight GPs and was lauded as one of the top five drivers in F1 before he left Red Bull to join Renault (now Alpine) and then McLaren.
It’s all been downhill since, apart from winning at Monza last year and a sudden flash of the Honey Badger of old at the Mexico Grand Prix two weeks ago.
He made several spectacular passes to finish seventh and ahead of teammate Lando Norris.
Ricciardo’s supporters hoped for a resurgence, but it is not to be be.
Ricciardo is particularly popular in the United States, which was an incentive for the American-based Haas team to give him a seat.Embed from Getty Images
Owner Gene Haas, whose 70th birthday party on Sunday was rained on by Ricciardo, might have hoped for a marketing bonanza.
A race through the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas will be added to the F1 calendar next year and the dollar-driven hoopla has already started.
Ricciardo appeared in the F1 paddock at the US Grand Prix in Texas last month wearing a Stetson and riding a horse.
But handling the 1000-horsepower from his McLaren is another matter. Ricciardo admits he has never been comfortable in the car and has sought the advice of a psychologist.
It seems the psychologists’s chair has replaced a seat in F1. Ricciardo says he won’t be on the grid next year and would rather a role as a reserve driver for either Mercedes or Red Bull than driving for a mid-field team.
Former world champion Jenson Button has warned Ricciardo against drifting into anonymity but there may be no alternative.
A career as a commentator would be a possibility if nothing eventuates in 2024 but 2023 seems a write-off.
Meanwhile, the Brazil race has thrown up a turn-around in the fortunes of Mercedes after its one-two finish in Brazil.
Mercedes suffered from “porpoising” earlier in the season but has overcome this and other issues.
British driver George Russell finished ahead of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton for his first Grand Prix victory.
Behind them, a bitter split emerged in the Red Bull team.
Sergio Perez gave up a position to allow double-world champion Max Verstappen to chase down Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
When he failed to catch the Spaniard, Verstappen refused to give his place back to Perez, saying he had “reasons” for not doing so and the team knew what they were.
Verstappen isn’t saying and nor is Red Bull with team principal Christian Horner refusing to divulge what was said “behind closed doors.”
Perez is locked in a battle with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for runner-up in the drivers’ championship.
Verstappen’s refusal to obey team orders is being linked to this year’s Monaco Grand Prix when a crash by Perez in the final laps prevented Verstappen from setting a better time in qualifying.
The Dutch driver believed he could have started on pole at Monaco where passing is close to impossible on the tight street circuit.
Instead, he started fourth behind Perez who won the race after qualifying was red flagged.
Cars had to be cleared from the track at the entrance to the tunnel where Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ran into Perez after the Mexican driver hit the barrier.
While it is understandable that Verstappen would have been angry at being prevented from setting a faster lap, taking some sort of revenge over it it six months later and when he has won a second world championship is difficult to imagine.
Some have already said such a dummy spit would be childish.
But it is worth considering Verstappen’s comment over his tangle with Hamilton on Sunday.
“I just felt it, as soon as I was going next to him, that he had no intention to leave me space,” said Verstappen.
“And okay, if you don’t live me space, are we just going to collide?”
Something like an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Verstappen would not pull back and Hamilton would not yield in the Senna Esses at the Interlagos circuit.
“I thought after last year, we maybe forget about it, we can finally race you know,” said Verstappen.
“Because first of all, why I went side by side, I thought okay, let’s have a good race here.
“But then you feel it with a driver, if he’s going to
leave space or not. And there was zero intention to leave me space.”
The stewards thought Verstappen was mostly to blame and gave him a five-second penalty.
Verstappen went to the pits to have his front wing replaced and while Hamilton drove on, he hinted after the race that he thought he could have won had the incident not happened.
“What can I say?” said Hamilton. “You know how it is with Max.”
Hamilton and Mercedes believed they were cheated of the 2021 championship when race director Michael Masi cleared lapped cars between the two drivers while the last laps of the race were being run under a safety car in the last race at Abu Dhabi last year
Verstappen passed Hamilton on fresher tyres and won the race and the championship under the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Masi was stood down by the FIA and has returned to Australia as chairman of the Supercars series.
It remains the most controversial of Formula One issues and will never be forgotten, least of all by the drivers involved.