The Australian arrived at McLaren from Renault amid high expectations but endured a difficult first campaign at Woking and was comprehensively outperformed by teammate Lando Norris for the majority of 2021.
Ricciardo struggles to adapt to the MCL35M was a theme of last season but he did claim a memorable victory at Monza to hand McLaren its first win since 2012 by leading Norris home in the only one-two finish of the season.
Speaking at the launch of McLaren’s 2022 challenger on Friday, Ricciardo admitted he “didn’t really know” his own strengths before his tricky start to life at the Woking outfit.
“There’s a lot I can use from that moving forward, simply because yeah, it kind of occurred to me that I didn’t really know my strengths,” he explained.
“I knew that I could be very fast – but I thought maybe because I have got bigger balls in the high-speed corners and I just care less! I don’t know.
“But going through it, I realised OK, this is what made me fast in years past. This is what actually gives me confidence in the car, and this is actually where I’m better than others, in this part, and that was at times when I couldn’t do it in the car, so that’s kind of how I discovered that.
“I was trying to get the car to do that, like, this is what got me to the dance so to speak, let me do this and I’ll do well.
“But then there’s the reality of things not being an overnight fix, and I need to work on myself and adapt my style to get it going.
“I definitely learned my strengths. I think my weaknesses I guess became more apparent, but it was really the weird one figuring out why I was quick, or why I’d been quick.
“It wasn’t so much the fast corners actually!”
Using the experience of his struggles, and his expertise from driving previous cars that had better suited his style, Ricciardo said he was pretty assertive about what he wanted from the team’s 2022 car.
“From very early on, from when I first got into the car, I was relaying information on this is what is different to the Renault or the Red Bull, so I was already kind of feeding information,” he added.
“As we were more races deep in, I was still kind of not doing as well as I thought, so I was beating [the drum] a little bit louder.
“The positive was that Lando was also in agreement to that, and he would have like to have these attributes as well in the car, and what we could do with it.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on that for this year’s car, but it’s also a whole new car so we don’t know if that is also the best way to drive this car.
“I was beating it, but the team also acknowledged that this is a strength of Daniel, he’s proven to be very fast, so we also want to give him this so we can also get the most out of Daniel.”
After conducting some early simulator running, Ricciardo is hopeful the MCL36 will suit him more and enable him to unlock greater levels of performance.
“There’s a lot of unknowns now, that’s a fact, but I think with change definitely comes some optimism where maybe this will actually get me to lean on my strengths more or whatever,” he said.
“I’ve done a few laps in the sim – I’ve done a few sessions so more than a few – and I think so far it’s been going pretty good, so I’m pretty happy with where I am at with the car at the moment. But how that correlates to on track we have to see.
“But I am excited for new cars, and it’s going to be different to me as well. A lot of the comparisons are to an F2 car but I never raced F2, so there’s going to be a few unknowns for me as well but I am prepared and excited for those.
“So hopefully you can see me driving as free as a bird in 2022.”