Daniel Ricciardo has hit back at critics of Oscar Piastri and Mark Webber, saying there is no bad blood between Australians in Formula 1 despite him losing his seat to his younger compatriot.
Piastri was announced as Ricciardo’s 2023 McLaren replacement after the British team sacked the eight-time race winner in the middle of the year.
It was later revealed that McLaren had signed a deal for the Aussie Formula 3 and Formula 2 champion in June, two months before it entered negotiations to end Ricciardo’s contract a year early.
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Mark Webber is Piastri’s manager and was instrumental in moving the young prospect out of the Alpine academy and into a McLaren race seat, putting the past, present and future of Australians in Formula 1 firmly at the centre of an ugly driver market.
Piastri and Webber copped significant heat when their move ended up at the FIA Contract Recognition Board, with Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer accusing the young Aussie of a lack of integrity and loyalty.
The driver-manager pair has also been pilloried online and on social media, particularly by Australian Formula 1 fans, for what many believe appeared to believe was deliberate friendly fire.
But Ricciardo said that the sliding doors of his and Piastri’s McLaren contracts was a coincidence, and he added that anyone who thought he’d been deliberately targeted by his compatriots was misguided.
“It was just how the chips fell,” Ricciardo told the In the Fast Lane podcast. “He was in the situation, but it’s not like he created the situation.
“It was just a product of all these things happening and then, okay, he’s the guy, and that’s it.
“Of course Mark has a job to do as well, trying to find his driver a seat.
“I get how people were like, ‘Oh, you know, doing that to another Aussie!’, and blah, blah, blah, but I certainly didn’t view it like that or take it as it seemed from the outside. We were all just trying to do the best we could.”
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Ricciardo called Piastri over the Dutch Grand Prix weekend, barely a week after his axing was confirmed, to congratulate him and clear the air, which the Melburnian described as the act of a “true professional”. Webber also sought out Ricciardo at around the same time to apologise for the messy situation.
The outbound Aussie said he wanted to make sure Piastri’s long-awaited debut wasn’t coloured by the twists and turns of the 2022 driver market or his own sidelining from the sport.
“I definitely felt for him,” Ricciardo said of his successor. “And look, don’t get me wrong, of course my career was kind of in a way going tits up, so I was certainly very occupied with myself in trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do, but at the same time I was aware of some of the comments and stuff that were going towards him.
“I felt for him … it should be the biggest moment of your life, getting into Formula 1. It’s a dream come true.
“If it can’t really be enjoyed or celebrated, it’s a bit of a shame.”
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Ricciardo, who will return to Red Bull Racing next season as a third driver, encouraged Australian racing fans to get to know Piastri before judging him.
“No-one really knows him yet as well as a driver, as a character — as an individual,” he said. “It’s a little harsh that he’s getting some stick when people are just making their own assumptions. So I felt for him.
“This should be one of the proudest moments of his career, not something that he’s scared to talk about.”
Piastri made his McLaren debut last week in the post-season Abu Dhabi test. He will make his racing debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix next March.