Daniel Ricciardo backed to see out McLaren contract

Daniel Ricciardo battled again in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix but he has received a strong hint he will see out his McLaren contract.

Daniel Ricciardo has been given a vote of confidence by McLaren ahead of qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

As speculation mounts his contract could be torn up a year early following a string of disappointing results, team boss Andreas Seidl backed in his struggling Australian driver.

“Formula 1 is a team sport and it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s mechanics, engineers or the driver,” Seidl told Sky Sports F1.

“It’s important that we have a culture within the team where internally we are very clear about things that we need to improve.

“It is very clear that it is my job as team boss to protect the team from the outside world. In the last 20 years, I have not seen a driver become faster because he was publicly criticised.

“We have a contract with Daniel for next year and that’s why we’re all staying calm, keeping working hard and trying to find those percentages that he is missing at the moment. And then we look forward to better results with him again.”

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Ricciardo will start from 12th spot on the grid, next to younger teammate Lando Norris.

Charles Leclerc lived up to his status as the master of poles this season when pulling a flying lap out of the bag to keep the Red Bulls at bay.

The Ferrari driver, registering his fourth consecutive pole and sixth of the season, has for company on the front row of Sunday’s race the in-form Sergio Perez.

“It feels good,” said a thrilled Leclerc, who has failed to convert any of his three most recent poles into victory.

“The feeling is there and it’s good, so I’m optimistic for tomorrow. I just want to finish the job.”

Daniel Ricciardo walks in the Paddock for final practice ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Daniel Ricciardo walks in the Paddock for final practice ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Perez, who won on the streets of the Azerbaijani capital 12 months ago (with Leclerc on pole) and in Monaco last time out, once again outperformed his world champion teammate Max Verstappen.

Verstappen starts on the second row with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari.

Leclerc had a healthy championship lead after the third race in Australia but goes into this eighth round of the season nine points behind Verstappen, with Perez only six points back in third.

“All poles feel good, but this one I didn’t expect,” he said.
“I thought the Red Bulls were stronger in the first and second qualifying sessions but on the last lap everything came together.”

The man from Monaco nailed his flying lap in the top 10 shootout, expertly eking the maximum out of his car around this complex circuit with its sinuous old city section and airport runway-long straight.

Perez, in the prime of his racing life with his confidence flowing, had popped up with a sub-1min 42sec lap to lead the charge into the final throw of the qualifying dice.

Sainz briefly flirted with his first ever pole but with the qualifying timer almost at zero Leclerc crossed the line in 1min 41.359sec to top the timesheets.

Perez threw everything at his last lap but ended up 0.282s slower.

“Yeah, Q3 is when you go balls out and I hit the wall a couple of times. At the end we had a problem with the engine, we couldn’t turn it on and I was out on my own with no ‘tow’.... would it have been enough for pole, who knows?”

Verstappen, only 0.065s off his teammate, reported: “The start of the lap was good but then it went away from me, tiny mistakes. Still as a team, second and third, we have a good opportunity tomorrow.”

Perez has given Red Bull team chief Christian Horner an interesting dilemma in terms of which of his drivers to back should there be a repeat of Barcelona when the Mexican was given team orders to let Verstappen through for the win.

Lewis Hamilton steers his car around the Azerbaijan GP circuit. Picture: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP
Lewis Hamilton steers his car around the Azerbaijan GP circuit. Picture: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP

Mercedes struggled in practice with its under-performing 2022 car bouncing on the bumpy track, so George Russell starting on the third row after placing fifth in qualifying was a decent result.

The AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly joins him ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes sharing the fourth row with Yuki Tsunoda, while Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso complete the top 10.

Hamilton, more than a second off Leclerc, was brutally blunt in his assessment of the afternoon.

“We’re not even racing those guys at the front, they’re in a completely different league,” said the frustrated seven-time champion.

“So, it seems that these guys are miles ahead, and then there is this pack that we’re in,” added Hamilton, who is under investigation for slowing down as he appeared to wait for a tow from the car behind.

The opening session was red-flagged towards the end when Lance Stroll’s front wing flew off his Aston Martin after pranging the barrier at turn two, his second crash in as many laps.

This left Valtteri Bottas, in 17th, in danger of falling at the first qualifying hurdle for the first time in 143 grand prix and Monaco in 2015.

Hamilton led a convoy of cars heading back out when the session restarted at 6.40pm local time, the temperatures dipping and the shadows lengthening.

They all crossed the line at the cut off time for a final lap, with Bottas miraculously sneaking through with the 15th and final Q2 ticket, his proud record intact.

– with AFP

Originally published as Daniel Ricciardo backed to see out McLaren contract