Piastri or Ricciardo? The complicated feelings of McLaren fans

Despite a turbulent few months, the McLaren fans walking through the Australian Grand Prix gates on Friday wanted to make one thing clear: They still love Daniel Ricciardo.

He is, after all, one of the sport’s most popular drivers, with eight grand prix wins and 32 podium finishes under his belt.

Can Oscar Piastri capture McLaren fans just as well as Daniel Ricciardo? Credit:Eddie Jim

But some fans said they were ready to let go of the beloved former McLaren driver, gripped by the potential of 21-year-old Oscar Piastri, the Melburnian who took over Ricciardo’s vacated seat with McLaren.

Others, meanwhile, were hesitant to lend their support to the youngster, whose signing with the team last August was marred by controversy.

One fan, Alyssa Arun, 35, is ready for a Piastri-led McLaren team. She’s flown in from Thailand to attend the 2023 Australian Grand Prix to support McLaren, the team she’s followed since 2019.

‘I’d rather it was Ricciardo, but I’ll get behind Piastri – eventually.’

Ricciardo, who is now a reserve driver with Red Bull, was the first driver Arun liked on Drive to Survive because of his happy-go-lucky personality, a trait that earned him the nickname of the “honey badger” – cute and cuddly, but savage when crossed.

Arun isn’t alone in her admiration for Ricciardo – the fourth most followed F1 driver on Instagram.

His following on the social media platform, just shy of 8 million, is more than 10 times the size of Piastri’s.

However, the difference in following may have more to do with experience than popularity – Piastri is racing in his first Formula 1 season, compared to Ricciardo having notched 12.

Alyssa Arun, 35, flew from Thailand to watch the Australian Grand Prix, and said she’s ready to support Oscar Piastri. Credit:Carla Jaeger

That said, Arun is ready to let go of Ricciardo for the sake of the team’s success: “I really like [Ricciardo] being with McLaren, but I like McLaren performing well more.”

Ricciardo was a star performer on the F1 grid when he drove for Red Bull, where he won seven races. He had two podium finishes at Renault (now Alpine), but struggled at McLaren, apart from one win, culminating in the early termination of his contract.

He has since taken on the role as third driver for Red Bull in the 2023 season, aiming to take a year off F1 before returning next season.

“I feel a bit sad that Ricciardo has to go, but I like this Oscar Piastri,” Arun said.

Another long-time McLaren fan, Ian Fletcher, 58, said Piastri had to prove himself before he would lend his full support.

“I’d rather it was Ricciardo, but I’ll get behind Piastri – eventually,” he said.

Fletcher was troubled by the way Piastri left Alpine last season, the team he’d driven with during his junior years and as F1 reserve driver for 2022, to land the seat vacated by Ricciardo.

Some saw the move as a way for Piastri to secure his place on the F1 grid for the 2023 season – something the 21-year-old said wasn’t guaranteed if he stayed with Alpine.

Others saw it as a lack of loyalty to the team that invested millions of dollars into his driving career.

“ I haven’t bought the McLaren shirt yet,” Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, fans including Toby Bellamy, 18, and Harry Boyd, 20, are buzzing at the potential of Piastri.

Boyd said he was gripped by the youngster’s rise through his rookie season, particularly when he won the Formula 2 and Formula 3 titles in successive years – 2020 and 2021.

Harry Boyd, 20, was gripped by Oscar Piastri’s rise through his rookie seasonCredit:Carla Jaeger

Winning the Formula 2 title entered Piastri into an illustrious group, becoming one of six drivers to win the championship during a rookie season.

Boyd added that Ricciardo’s departure from McLaren was disappointing, but not unexpected.

“With Ricciardo, you knew how good he was going to be in his cars, but with Piastri, we have no idea what his potential could be.”

Just how far or how well Piastri could go is a thrilling prospect for Boyd.

Despite his own full-fledged support for Piastri, Bellamy thought the very public spat between Alpine and McLaren may have turned other fans away from supporting him.

“It’s definitely added a lot more pressure to perform well because everyone is talking about him. It’s definitely not a good start to his career,” Bellamy said.

Boyd added: “I was a bit unsure about it. But at that point, I just wanted him on the grid, so I wasn’t too fussed.”

It’s a complicated topic for McLaren fan Ratmar Sultanov, 40, who believes Piastri is the key to the team’s future success, but still misses Ricciardo’s glory years.

“We all love Ricciardo. It’s impossible not to be sad,” he said. “But I would choose Oscar because he’s at the beginning of his journey. He’s brilliant. Very promising – definitely championship material.”

News, results and expert analysis from the weekend of sport sent every Monday. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article