Lando Norris believes the absence of former McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo will leave “big shoes to fill” on the Formula 1 grid in 2023.
Ricciardo will spend this year as Red Bull’s reserve driver after losing his McLaren seat after two disappointing seasons alongside Norris in 2021/22.
The eight-time race winner has seen his place at McLaren taken by compatriot Oscar Piastri, who will make his F1 debut at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
The race at Sakhir marks the first time since June 2011 that Ricciardo has not been on the F1 grid, although he has regularly expressed a desire to return to a full-time seat in 2024.
Despite repeated insistence that he had little sympathy for Ricciardo throughout his struggles, Norris feels the loss of a driver of the quality and personality of Ricciardo – one of the most decorated drivers of the past decade – will be strongly felt in 2023.
He said: “I think what was really good about Daniel was his experience as a driver who has won races, who has achieved a lot in his career in Formula 1 and everybody scores extremely high, or ranks as one of the best drivers in the world. the circuit grid in previous years, so you have big shoes to fill for Oscar.
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“I’d like to see Daniel on the grid, just because he’s a very talented driver, he’s a guy everyone loves for many reasons.
“He always makes races exciting and especially when he was with Red Bull in the past when he had a car that was able to put on a good show, he was able to expose it and make the most of it.
‘It’s not my decision [for a Ricciardo return]it’s up to him to try. [He’s] obviously a nice guy so from a respect point of view I would obviously like to see him back on the grid and see his smiling face in the paddock every now and then. But otherwise I will see him this year and see what he can do.”
Norris and Piastri enter the season-opening race after a challenging pre-season test in Bahrain in which McLaren completed the fewest laps of any team.
The MCL60 showed little speed during the three-day test, with the team having a recurring problem with the wheel’s eyebrows.
McLaren is openly bracing for a challenging start to the season, with CEO Zak Brown recently admitting that the team has fallen short of expectations with the new car.