When Daniel Ricciardo broke McLaren's nine-year win drought at Monza in 2021

As the fans in the grandstands overseeing the starting grid waited, the image of the papaya floated into sight as Daniel Ricciardo flew past the checkered flag.

Daniel Ricciardo does the 'shoey' after winning the 2021 Italian Grand Prix. (Image: Twitter)
By Nilavro Ghosh | Aug 25, 2022 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

When Daniel Ricciardo posted a video of himself of Instagram breaking the news on Wednesday, August 24, fans were dejected, but saw it coming. The 2022 season has been anything but good for the honey badger and it did not catch anyone by surprise when the papaya team decided to terminate their contract with the Aussie. As Formula One entered the summer break, Ricciardo found himself languishing in 12th place with just 16 points to his name. Simply not good enough for a team of McLaren’s caliber, especially when one sees how Lando Norris has been performing with the same car. The honey badger joined the Woking-based outfit in 2021, moving from Renault and while he did have a contract until the end of the 2023 season, the Aussie will not be seeing it out. However, that will never take away the fact that it was he who finally gave McLaren their first race win in Formula One after nine long years.

The perfect start

Lining up against the leader of the driver’s championship is always a daunting aspect, especially if you’re someone who is well and truly out of the title picture. It was Ricciardo who started P2 on the grid that day beside Max Verstappen under the sun in Italy as a sea of fans anticipated for what they expected to be a dramatic race. The honey badger got perhaps the best start of anyone as he zoomed past Verstappen before they even reached the first corner, taking the inside line to stay ahead of his former teammate at Red Bull Racing.

In the opening laps of the race, Alfa Romeo’s Anotiono Giovinazzi made contact with one of the Ferraris, causing him to spin out and crash into the barricade, causing the first yellow flag and safety car of the day. The honey badger might have taken this opportunity to compose himself at the front of the pack, as it was a place he had not found himself in quite a while. So, when the green flags were waved again, he seemed as cool as a cucumber as he stepped on the gas to maintain his lead from his teammate and the two championship protagonists closely following behind.

A huge turning point

Halfway through the race, the most dramatic incident occurred, that would completely change the complexion of the contest at the temple of speed. A slow pit stop by the Mercedes crew on Lewis Hamilton caused the seven-time champion to come out right beside his title rival Max Verstappen. Going into the first chicane, the Red Bull was cramped for space by the Mercedes. In his desperation to get ahead of Lewis, Max refused to pull out, and hit sausage kerb, which caused his car to be flown off the road and straight onto the roof of Hamilton’s Mercedes. The two title contenders had taken themselves out, opening the door for Ricciardo to go for the win with just a little less pressure. It also allowed him to make that all-important second pit stop without losing track position.

Italian GP Hamilton Verstappen crash
The crash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton dominated the narrative around the Italian GP 2021. (Image: Twitter/@F1)

One could theorize that if either of Verstappen or Hamilton had been able to finish the race, they would have found themselves on the top step of the podium instead of Ricciardo. But luck is something that, more often than not, turns out to be absolutely crucial in any sport. And besides, the honey badger still had a job to do as half of the race was yet to come.

Holding off the pressure

Going into turn one after the restart, Ricciardo was in peril, being pursued by Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris. Fortunately for him, the two were busy in their own personal battle for second place that gave the Aussie the time and the impetus to extend his lead at the top as much as possible. In a way, Lando had inadvertently perhaps helped his teammate get that elusive victory. By the end of the 31st lap, it was a McLaren 1-2 at Monza.

Throughout the remainder of the race, Ricciardo stayed at the front, but it was far from comfortable. It is no secret that the biggest rivalry that goes on in Formula One every single season is the one among teammates. Norris was in P2, always keeping within a second of his teammate, looking for the opportunity to pounce on any kind of a mistake. The Australian had to drive a quick yet steady race to keep his teammate and the others following closely at bay.

But this is Daniel Ricciardo we are talking about. He is not someone who is new to the sport and he certainly knows how to hold his ground and win races. While the honey badger would liked to have been on the podium more than just once, this was special. As the fans in the grandstands overseeing the starting grid waited, the image of the papaya floated into sight as Daniel Ricciardo flew past the checkered flag to win the Italian Grand Prix, handing McLaren’s first race win in Formula One since 2012.

Daniel Ricciardo in a file photo (Image credits: Twitter)
Daniel Ricciardo wins the Italian Grand Prix! (Image credits: Twitter)

A dream realized

The image of the Aussie drinking the sparkling wine from his shoe is something that will be etched in the minds of F1 fans around the globe. Ricciardo is someone that is loved by almost every single an on the planet and seeing him finally earn a well-deserved victory was simply the greatest thing in the world. The whole McLaren crew, including team principal Zak Brown looked up to the podium, as McLaren’s knight in shining armor had his hands in the air, on top of the world. After nine long years, it was the papayas’ day, a dream brought to fruition by none other than Daniel Ricciardo.