Daniel Ricciardo snubs former team-mates with pick for most underrated driver – EXCLUSIVE

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo at 2022 McLaren launch

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Daniel Ricciardo decided against opting for team-mates past or present when asked to select the most underrated driver on the F1 grid. The McLaren star threw his backing behind AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who has worked hard to restore his reputation after a failed spell with Red Bull in 2019. 

Gasly was called up from what was then known as Toro Rosso to Red Bull three years ago, although his spell with the heavyweight F1 outfit lasted only 12 Grands Prix. Teaming up with Max Verstappen, the Frenchman struggled to adjust to the shift in expectations and was soon sent back to where he came from. 

The 26-year-old has relished the fightback and finished in the top 10 of the Drivers’ Championship for the past two seasons running. Despite having driven alongside dark horses such as Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg in the past, Ricciardo believes that Gasly is deserving of the ‘most underrated’ label. 

“Personally, I like Pierre Gasly,” he told Express Sport. “For the record, he’s not the only driver I like. I like him as a person, but also what he’s demonstrated, and he’s not the only one. Getting to the top of Red Bull, he got a really big opportunity with them and it was fairly short-lived.

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“He got to the top, but as quickly as he got there, he got knocked back down. He’s showing really good character traits, really good resilience because he’s still fighting. Through all of that, he actually managed to win a race in 2020. He had a few podiums, so I think when everyone wrote him off, he came back even stronger.

“I’m happy for him as a human because I do like him, but as a competitor I respect that. Getting to the top is difficult, staying there is even harder. He went through a pretty big rollercoaster in 12 months, and I just know that he really fought back well from getting written off.”

While Gasly’s future is relatively comfortable at AlphaTauri, Ricciardo himself is in an unsettled situation with McLaren rumoured to be lining up F2 star Oscar Piastri for 2023. That could send the Aussie to Alpine, where Fernando Alonso recently caught team boss Otmar Szafnauer by surprise as he kept a bombshell switch to Aston Martin under wraps until the emergence of an official press release. 

Ricciardo previously insisted that he was committed to seeing out his McLaren contract, which runs to the end of next season, and directly addressed speculation with a statement on social media last month. “There have been a lot of rumours around my future in Formula 1, but I want you to hear it from me,” he said on Twitter.

“I am committed to McLaren until the end of next year and [I] am not walking away from the sport. [I] appreciate it hasn’t always been easy, but who wants easy!

“I’m working my a** off with the team to make improvements and get the car right and back to the front where it belongs. I still want this more than ever. See you in Le Castellet. Daniel.”

Ricciardo was speaking at the launch of the McLaren Turbo Series on PartyPoker, in association with McLaren Racing. The full McLaren Turbo Series schedule can be seen via the PartyPoker website.

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