Daniel Ricciardo's first season at McLaren might not have delivered everything the team and driver and been hoping for in terms of results, but executive racing director Andrea Stella has commended the Australian's contribution behind the scenes.
“We know there is more to come with Daniel,” Stella told reporters last month. “I am very optimistic from this point of view, and let me just say that working with him is a real pleasure.
“He creates a really nice atmosphere in the team, which is a good foundation for the technical and driving development.”
Ricciardo arrived at Woking at the start of 2021 after two seasons with Renault (now Alpine), but he's admitted to struggling to get to grips with the McLaren and failing to extra the most out of the MCL35M in qualifying which has in turn compromised his race performances.
But it was Ricciardo who came out on top of his young team mate Lando Norris in the Italian Grand Prix which ended with a 1-2 result for the team - their first victory since 2012.
“The progress through the season has been tangible,” Stella asserted. “Even if we look at Saudi, and I want to say that because this may have been a low piece of information, but actually he was very quick in qualifying.
"In Q1 he was P3 or something and then in Q2 actually there was damage to the car on a kerb which took Daniel out of contention," he said. “Otherwise his performance in qualifying in Saudi would have been very strong.”
Even so, Norris finished 45 points ahead of Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings and the team was pipped to third place in the constructors championship by Ferrari.
Asked to give himself a rating for the year, Ricciardo said: "The first part of the season is probably a four, the second part a seven.” Accepting the average of a "massive" 5.5, he added that it was "not through lack of trying."
But Stella is emphatic that there will be more and better to come from the Aussie in 2022. "We have a sort of development plan, and I am looking forward to being able to see what we will be able to do next year with Daniel."
And Ricciardo's personal performance coach is just as confident that the driver still has the necessary self-belief to come back to the very top of the sport.
“A world title one day is 100 per cent the goal, it’s always been the goal from day one,” Michael Italiano told British the Daily Express tabloid.
“I have full belief he’s good enough for a world championship, and he’s got full belief that he’s the best. If the car is good enough, he will make it happen.”
And Italiano insisted that Ricciardo had made the right choice to leave Renault after two years when he was approached by McLaren just before the start of the delayed 2020 season.
“Daniel made the decision, I wasn’t involved. I’m obviously just here to prepare him," he said. "Do I think it was a good move? Yes, I do. No offence to Renault, of course, but I really see the belief this team has
"So far my dealings with McLaren have been nothing but positive. It’s easy for me to say I think he’s made the right call."
Italiano added that Ricciardo's victory in Italy had also provided everyone with a big boost. “Getting that win was a great way to say, ‘Cool, this is why I joined, because I wanted a car that has the potential to win’.”