Daniel Ricciardo was on Thursday signed to drive for Formula One side McLaren in the 2021 season. Meanwhile, 25-year-old Carlos Sainz will leave McLaren following the 2020 season to partner 22-year-old Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, forming the team’s youngest pairing in the past 50 years.
Ricciardo will line up alongside Britain’s Lando Norris, 20, in 2021 after he leaves Renault at the end of this season.
“Daniel is a proven race-winner and his experience, commitment and energy will be a valuable addition to McLaren and our mission to return to the front of the field,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl.
Here are six things to know about the 30-year-old driver from Australia:
Red Bull product
Like Carlos Sainz, whose move to Ferrari led to the McLaren vacancy, Ricciardo is a product of the Red Bull driver academy. He drove for Red Bull’s junior Formula One team Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013, having made his F1 debut at the British Grand Prix when loaned to the HRT team in 2011. He switched to the flagship Red Bull team in 2014 and has since won seven races and recorded 29 podium finishes. He finished third in the drivers’ standings in 2014 and 2016.
He stunned the paddock by ditching Red Bull after five years for a “fresh start” and a lucrative two-year deal at Renault. “It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” he said at the time. “But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge.” The move to once mighty McLaren, emerging on the evidence of last season at least out of their slumber, looks less of a risk. Dashingly brilliant at his best he will be hoping the British team can provide him with the power to become a serious title contender and fulfil his ambition of being the first Australian world champion since Alan Jones in 1980.
Ricciardo was born in Perth, but Italy is close to heart. His father Giuseppe moved from Ficarra to Australia aged seven, while his mum is first-generation Italian. Ricciardo moved to Italy as a teenager in pursuit of his motor racing dream, and speaks the language. He spoke about his love of Italian tradition to Australian public broadcaster SBS in 2017: “The family values and always eating dinner together you know at the table. We love our food, I mean the whole world loves their food, it’s not just Italians but you know the big Sunday lunches - it was a big part of us getting together with other cousins, uncles and aunties.”
He has added a new term to the Formula One lexicon – the ‘shoey’, which is his own tradition of drinking champagne from his shoe to celebrate victories. On the top of the podium after the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix he drank champagne from his right shoe, before generously offering his left after filling it up with bubbly to Patrick Stewart, the iconic British actor and post-race compere.
Lurking behind his beaming smile and Aussie-Italian charm lies a... honey badger. His nickname, an image of which he has had adorned to the back of his helmet, is well earned. He explained its significance in a Red Bull interview: “It’s supposed to be the most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. When you look at it, he seems quite cute and cuddly, but as soon as someone crosses his territory in a way he doesn’t like, he turns into a bit of a savage and he’ll go after anything – tigers, pythons – he turns very quickly, but he’s a good guy.”
The complete athlete
“That was just unbelievable,” purred Red Bull boss Christian Horner after Ricciardo’s 2018 Monaco Grand Prix success from pole despite losing a quarter of his engine’s power. “He just managed it like he was on a Sunday afternoon drive. Daniel is the complete article now. You can hear his composure in the car, when something goes wrong there is no panic, no raising of his voice. He worked it out and I cannot praise him enough.” McLaren will be happy to see the complete article driving their car in 2021.