McLaren has a dog of a day at Bahrain but is the papaya-coloured car the dog of the grid? PETER COSTER says Daniel Ricciardo might deserve another chance:
Oscar Piastri spent a year away from the F1 grid as a reserve driver while Daniel Ricciardo has started his year on the side lines after the Melbourne rookie took over the McLaren from the Perth driver.
Not that Ricciardo spends much time in Perth anymore and has palatial homes in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles.
He lost his job when he was consistently out qualified by teammate Lando Norris, but reportedly pocketed by $18 million on the way out.
Such riches are still to come for Piastri, but while Ricciardo finds himself as a reserve driver for Red Bull and showing off the car to corporate fat its at sponsor days, the Bahrain Grand Prix revealed the McLaren car as the culprit.
The car is a dog!
Lando Norris was making better use of it than Ricciardo over the past two seasons, but even he is frustrated with the McLaren and was seen punching a wall (not for the first time) after the team’s season opening debacle.
Norris finished last after five stops to fix a pneumatic problem and Piastri retired on lap 14 after the team failed to find an electrical fault.
Changing the multi-million dollar steering wheel with all its electronic buttons (F1 steering wheels resemble piano accordions) did nothing.
The engine shut down while the car sat in the pit box.Embed from Getty Images
The most exciting thing about the MCL60 (the anniversary of the long-running team) is its eye-catching papaya colour.
The brilliant orange was first seen on New Zealander Bruce McLaren’s thundering M6A in the first round of the 1967 Can-Am season, which was won by fellow NZ star Denny Hume.
McLaren himself went on to win the Can-Am title only to die in the M8D Can-Am car when bodywork come drift while testing the 7.6-litre monster at Goodwood in 1970.
The colour survived and is the McLaren colour today on all its works cars.
But the eye-catcher is far from the front of the grid and saw its two young drivers in Lando Norris, 24, and Oscar Piastri 21, struggling in qualifying at Bahrain.
Piastri failed to get through Q1 and started 18th at the back of the grid. Norris failed to get through to Q3 and started 11th.
No one at McLaren was expecting much and very little is what they got.
Norris is a future wold champion, who has tied himself to McLaren for five seasons, while Piastri is thought to be a superstar in the making having won all the junior championships.
But it should be remembered that Daniel Ricciardo won eight GPs, the last at McLaren when he triumphed at Monza in 2021.
Yes, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes world champion Lewis Hamilton crashed out of the race but Ricciardo was in the lead.
While the Australian with the smile that used to light up the paddock is unlikely to get his hands on a Red Bull this year, there are those who believe it could happen in 2024 if Sergio Perez fails to have his contract renewed.
Perez was second on the podium at Bahrain with Fernando Alonso on the third step after a stunning drive in his Aston Martin.
Some were scratching their heads when Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was “great to see the three of them on the podium.”
What he meant was that Alonso was driving an Aston Martin that was really a Red Bull after several of its top engineers were lured from Red Bull by the British team.
Red Bull driver development boss Helmut Marko was more forthright. He said the engineers who defected to Alpine “obviously have a good memory.”
Alonso’s move to Aston Martin was reportedly financed by its Canadian billionaire part owner Lawrence Stroll.
His son, Lawrence Stroll, very nearly ended Alonso’s Bahrain race when he cut across in front of him early in the rsce.
But the former double world champion recovered to make the two most significant passes of the race against Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Lewis Russell before overtaking Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari.
Alonso, at the age of 41, belies the view that F1 drivers should retire to enjoy their riches before times catches up with them.
The Spanish champion showed at Bahrain that he has still got the reflexes and all the other attributes that make a champion.
The passes against the Mercedes drivers were the highlights of the Bahrain race. Cometh the hour, cometh the car and cometh the man.
Meanwhile, the Verstappen, Perez one-two at Bahrain has made mid-field contenders of Ferrari and Mercedes.
And back to the McLaren and the papaya paintwork that seems to be the best part of it.
Don’t blame the drivers. Blame the dog they’re driving.
It calls for a thought about just how bad Daniel Ricciardo was at McLaren.
Not all bad!