The race is on not only for the first two positions as Mercedes and Red Bull jostle for the top spot, but there is also a big tussle going on behind for the third position in the Constructors’ Championships with old rivals McLaren and Ferrari fighting for the third position in the season.
With just three races left to run in the 2021 season, Ferrari now sit 31.5 points clear of rivals McLaren after a strong run of form. McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that his team need a big scoring weekend at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix to retain any hope of remaining in the fight with the Scuderia for the third position.
McLaren’s impressive performance in 2021 has yielded a full five podiums finishes (one more than Ferrari), including Ricciardo’s astounding victory at Monza back in September, McLaren’s first win since 2012.
But an engine upgrade for Ferrari from Sochi, coupled with first-lap incidents for Ricciardo and teammate Lando Norris in the previous two races in Mexico and Brazil, have seen McLaren slip 31.5 points behind Ferrari in their fight for the third position in the constructors’ Championship. With not a lot of races remaining, Ricciardo is realistic about the sort of weekend McLaren need to have at the Losail International Circuit to stay in the hunt for the third position.
“It’s a bit more of a stretch now for sure,” said Ricciardo, whose retirement at Interlagos last time out ended a 34-race streak of finishes for the Australian. “It’s not over till it is over, but [Ferrari] have really capitalised the last couple of weekends when obviously both of us had first-lap incidents. And obviously, the lead car had the first-lap incident, which hurt a lot,” Ricciardo was quoted as saying by Formula1 website on Thursday.
“Looking over the whole season, I think Ferrari have been there from really Race One,” added Ricciardo. “They had a few poles [in Monaco and Baku] as well in that early part. I don’t want to say… we’re not definitely conceding yet, but I think we’ve done well to keep up the fight till now.
“But we’ll definitely have to have a better weekend than them [in Qatar] if we want any really shot at this. But we’ll just keep doing our thing and hopefully get a few more points than we’ve had the last couple of weekends,” Ricciardo said.
Norris agreed that the odds were now in Ferrari’s favour when asked ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix weekend about McLaren’s prospects of claiming third position in the constructors’ Championships this year, saying: “Of course it’s possible, but it’s obviously getting harder, and realistically we’re in a much more difficult position than we ever have been all season.”
“But we still have a chance, of course,” added Norris. “I think these next few tracks are hopefully going to suit us a little bit more than the Ferraris, so this will be our time to try and make up some points.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, agreed with his teammate that the Qatar track could suit McLaren this weekend, telling the media in Losail: “I did the sim. It’s obviously a track I don’t know, I hadn’t done it on the sim or anything before. I enjoyed it.
“It’s pretty quick, there’s a lot of fourth, fifth, sixth-gear corners; hopefully that somehow suits us. I think we’re decent in the fast corners, but let’s see. I’m excited to drive on a new circuit. I’ve watched it on MotoGP for many years so it’s cool to be able to drive around here now,” he added.
With McLaren hoping to put up a strong position, the Qatar Grand Prix could prove crucial — it will either widen the gap between McLaren and Ferrari or it will reduce the gap further and make the race tighter. Whatever the result, it would be a win-win situation for the millions of Formula 1 fans.