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Daniel Ricciardo’s Montreal upgrade hinged on ‘self-therapy’ — not Jacques Villeneuve

There was a point towards the end of last year when there was a genuine feeling that Daniel Ricciardo was lining up to take Sergio Pérez’s Formula One seat at Red Bull for 2025.

Ricciardo made clear upon his mid-season return to the grid with AlphaTauri (now RB) that getting back in the Red Bull, the same seat he vacated back in 2018, was his ultimate target. As Pérez struggled through the second half of the season, suggestions of that happening only grew.

But, Ricciardo did very little to press his case in the early part of 2024. He frequently trailing teammate Yuki Tsunoda and, besides his run to P4 in the Miami sprint qualifying and race, had not delivered a points finish ahead of Canada and sat 14th in the driver standings. Meanwhile, Pérez performed well enough to secure a contract extension through 2026, ending Ricciardo’s hopes of moving up anytime in the near future.

Off the back of Pérez’s confirmation, Ricciardo acknowledged he had to “hold myself probably accountable for not doing anything too spectacular” this season. “When you’re trying to fight for a top seat, you need to be doing some pretty awesome things,” he said.

By the Canadian Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s tough start to the season had changed his aim from fighting for a top seat to fighting for his current seat.

No one went further in questioning Ricciardo’s future than Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 world champion who was part of Sky Sports’ broadcast team for his home race in Montreal.

“Why is he still here?” Villeneuve said of Ricciardo, asking why he continued to struggle with his cars and declaring that “his image has kept him in F1 more than his actual results.” A brutal takedown, one that quickly went viral given how rare it is for a pundit to be so outspoken on an English-language F1 broadcast.

Villeneuve was harsh — perhaps too harsh — but few would dispute the element of truth in what he said. Ricciardo has been clear throughout this year he knows he’s not been doing a good enough job, and has plenty more performance to find.

Just 24 hours later, he found it. In tricky, windy conditions, Ricciardo not only made it through to Q3 for just the second time this season, but he stuck his RB car fifth on the grid, within two-tenths of pole position. Perfect timing, particularly off the back of Tsunoda’s confirmation at RB for 2025 only 90 minutes earlier.

It meant Ricciardo entered the media pen after qualifying with some of his old swagger and sparkle. He knew the questions that were about to come, that Villeneuve’s name would come up. Ricciardo hadn’t fully listened to what had been said about him, he said, only that he “heard he’s been talking s—.”

“But he always does,” Ricciardo continued. “I think he’s hit his head a few too many times, I don’t know if he plays ice hockey or something. But yeah. Anyway. I won’t give him the time of day.” Then came a “but…” and a lean in close to the microphones: “All those people can suck it! I want to say more, but it’s alright. We’ll leave him behind.”

It was only qualifying, after all. We’d seen this kind of flash from Ricciardo in Miami in the sprint, only for it to disappear when it mattered in the grand prix sessions. This was nevertheless a perfectly timed clapback to Villeneuve’s criticism.

But to directly link the two would do Ricciardo a disservice. He revealed that after Monaco, he made a concerted effort to try to understand why things weren’t working, going beyond his on-track performance and data such as braking points or corner speeds. It required calling on not only the team’s management and engineers, but also his inner-circle off the track, and asking them to be open books with their feedback.

“It was like, OK, what are maybe some other things that are affecting my performances?” Ricciardo said. “Am I coming into a race weekend not feeling energized or not feeling this or that?

“I think I just had a little bit of good self-therapy after Monaco, and just sat back and had a look at maybe the things I’m doing wrong away from the track. Or giving too much of my time to people and by the time I get to race day or something, I’m a little bit more flat.

“Deep down, I know what I can do, and it’s just making sure I’m in this spot to be able to do it more often.”

And making sure that those flashes of pace turn into something valuable when it matters on Sunday. Ricciardo’s Canadian Grand Prix was far from straightforward, with a creeping car on the start line — which Ricciardo suspected was due to a clutch issue — triggering a jump start and a five-second penalty. He managed to survive the chaos and benefit from some late incidents to grab four points for P8, nearly doubling his total for the season. That alone in the high-pressure conditions felt like a success to Ricciardo.

“All in all, (I’m) happy,” he said. “These races, it’s hard to be perfect. I made mistakes, obviously we were just trying to survive at times. So (I’m) just happy we got there in the end.”

The greater takeaway for Ricciardo from the Montreal weekend was that it went well from the moment he turned his first laps in FP1 right to the race. For the first time this season, every single session felt positive.

“It’s nice just to be competitive from Friday through to Sunday,” Ricciardo said. “I’m happy. (I’ve) just got to keep it rolling.”

Ricciardo has time on his side when it comes to proving to Red Bull what he can do and securing an extension with RB. If it wants to make a change, then reserve driver Liam Lawson is ready to step up, as the young Kiwi proved through his five-race stand-in when Ricciardo was injured last year. But there’s no reason for the team to rush into making that call yet.

Ricciardo will hope Montreal serves as a turning point in his season, a breakthrough after the earlier lifts to better understand where he was going wrong. Importantly, he also wants to ensure he keeps the feeling he brought to last weekend.

“That little energy, that little bit of a chip on my shoulder I brought into the weekend, I’ve got to make sure that stays there, and just keep that level of intensity,” Ricciardo said.

“Sometimes being a little bit… I don’t know if I need to be a bit angry or just get my testosterone up. But I think it helps me.”

(Lead photo of Daniel Ricciardo: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

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