History books will show that Daniel Ricciardo did not finish the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, but the sad truth is this was the Australian’s best drive of the season to date.
The 33-year-old was less than six laps away from clinching a points finish in Monza before an untimely engine failure robbed him of a much-needed morale boost.
Ricciardo’s McLaren sat idle on the edge of the Monza track for the final stages of Sunday evening’s race due to an oil leak, forcing the event to end behind a safety car in anticlimactic scenes.
But in those opening 46 laps, Ricciardo was almost impeccable behind the wheel.
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After starting fourth on the grid, the Perth driver briefly pushed his way up to third before inevitably being overtaken by the faster teams.
However, Ricciardo soon found himself embroiled in a tight tussle with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly for the remainder of the race.
With the assistance of DRS, Gasly kept applying pressure on the Australian, who was struggling for pace in the McLaren cockpit.
But Ricciardo successfully held off the 26-year-old, even when AlphaTauri attempted to undercut him, frustrating the Gasly until disaster struck on the left 47th lap.
“I’ll definitely have nightmares of Daniel’s rear wing over the next couple of days,” Gasly confessed after the race.
“I spent I don’t know how many laps behind him, but it felt like a lifetime.
“I tried everything, but he didn’t do one single mistake.”
Ricciardo’s heartbreaking setback continues a bizarre trend in the Italian Grand Prix, where the previous year’s victor does not finish the race.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fell victim the curse in 2020 before Gasly suffered the same fate the following year.
“I felt like I was doing a good job to hold off Gasly but didn’t have much more to show than that,” Ricciardo told reporters.
“It was a busy race, trying to hold on, do what I could and then yeah, felt like we got a little bit of a rhythm on the hards (tyres) with 10-15 laps to go but then the engine just switched off out of turn six.
“I had to pull over straight away because it was stuck in gear and so I couldn’t roll to a safe place. It would have been nice to get some points, but it wasn’t meant to be today.”
Earlier this year, McLaren cut ties with Ricciardo with 12 months remaining on his contract after a horror start to his 2022 campaign.
The Perth driver is reeling down in 14th on the drivers’ standings with 19 points, and currently finds himself without a seat on the F1 grid next year.
Ricciardo only has six more races to convince the other teams to pursue his signature, but currently there are only vacancies at Williams, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Haas.
However, reports emerged earlier this month linking the Australian with Mercedes as a reserve driver.
Meanwhile, former Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen showed once again that he‘s a serious level above the field as he stormed away to win the Italian Grand Prix.
The championship leader started from seventh on the grid after taking a five-place grid penalty, but made light work of the field as he jumped four places on the opening lap.
Italian Grand Prix 2022 results
1. Max Verstappen
2. Charles Leclerc
3. George Russell
4. Carlos Sainz
5. Lewis Hamilton
6. Sergio Perez
7. Lando Norris
8. Pierre Gasly
9. Nyck De Vries
10. Zhou Guanyu
11. Esteban Ocon
12. Mick Schumacher
13. Valtteri Bottas
14. Yuki Tsunoda
15. Nicholas Latifi
16. Kevin Magnussen
DNF: Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel