Could a Daniel Ricciardo revival mean fireworks with Lando Norris at McLaren?

After a team orders wrangle during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, is the McLaren dynamic in danger of being upset?

High on McLaren's wish-list for the remainder of the 2022 F1 season has to be a sustained return to form for Daniel Ricciardo.

But could such a revival cause some unwanted internal friction with his team-mate Lando Norris?

Since the Australian arrived at the Woking-based team for the 2021 campaign, he has been firmly - and surprisingly, it must be said - put in his place by Norris.

A multiple race winner unable to live with a driver a decade younger who still has not savoured the feeling of victory in Formula 1.

Monza orders

With one very obvious exception, however. That came in last year's Italian Grand Prix, when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton took each other out of the race but even so, they would have struggled to deny Ricciardo a triumph that stood out like a beacon amid the gloom of his other 2021 results.

And yet that bane of many a Formula 1 driver's life, team orders, reared its less than handsome head on that sunny September day at Monza. Norris, just behind Ricciardo for the Safety Car restart following the collision of the World Championship protagonists, was instructed to hold station and accept second place as a McLaren one-two finish looked increasingly assured.

For the most part, in what is now 30 races with the duo as colleagues, no such orders have been required.

Much more often than not, it has been Norris well ahead of Ricciardo, as evidenced by their respective points totals in those 30 grands prix - 210 for the Briton, 130 for the Aussie.

A state of affairs that, given Ricciardo's lofty reputation before he rocked up in commuter belt Surrey, had led to increasing speculation about his future.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown admitted the partnership had "not met expectations" of either team or driver, and that there were "mechanisms" within Ricciardo's contract for an early parting of the ways before the December 2023 expiry date.

Ricciardo battles back in Azerbaijan

Suddenly, however, at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the old Ricciardo resurfaced.

Instead of trailing around several places behind Norris, having finished 13th-12th-13th at the previous three grands prix, Ricciardo qualified on the same row as his team-mate and found their race pace was closely matched despite being on opposite strategies.

An anomaly occurred as the hard tyres appeared to work better than the mediums for both drivers. At different points of the race - Norris at the start, Ricciardo at the end - they each found themselves immediately behind their colleague on the road but able to produce superior pace on the white-marked rubber.

And that was where frustration began to creep in. "If this is all the pace he has, I have more," said a faster Ricciardo early on, told not to try and overtake in order to make the respective strategies work.

The payback for the 32-year-old came at the end. That time he was ahead, in P8 with Norris breathing down his neck and itching to get past for a crack at Fernando Alonso in seventh. Stay where you are, the Briton was told by his race engineer Will Joseph.

Norris complied, but was unhappy. "But that was for strategy, this is for finishing position," reasoned the Bristol-born driver with a distinctly sardonic tone to his voice. He even had a cheeky look at a pass down the inside into Turn 1 before thinking better of attempting it.

They took the chequered flag just 0.349sec apart, Ricciardo in front.

Can Ricciardo improve?

Of course, this was only one race, and whether McLaren find themselves having to intervene again depends entirely on Ricciardo building on this more encouraging display because Norris always seems capable of extracting whatever performance is in the MCL36.

But if the Aussie can, it could be a tricky one to manage between two drivers neither of whom would want to play second fiddle to the other.

Damon Hill, the former World Champion, recently harked back to an incident that occurred during a race weekend while he was working as a TV pundit soon after it had been announced Ricciardo was to join McLaren.

"[Daniel] came up to us in the paddock and he said [to Norris] 'I'm going to end you'," recalled Hill.

"I remember thinking 'that's always a risky thing to say' because it looks like the other way around - that Daniel Riccardo has been ended by Lando."

Two jovial characters on the outside, it had been expected Norris could have formed another 'bromance' with Ricciardo like he did with his previous team-mate, Carlos Sainz, but that appears not to have happened.

Instead, the disparities in results between two steely characters, despite their cheerful personas, may just have hardened their individual resolve rather than singing from the same hymn sheet for the benefit of the team.

There were signs of that in Baku, with team principal Andreas Seidl saying: "The most important thing is we have prepared these scenarios that the drivers know exactly what the goals will be.

"If situations like this come up, I have a lot of trust in both guys and in the end, I've seen on track I can rely on them which is very important."

Seidl needs to be right in continuing to have that faith for on the evidence of Baku, and if Ricciardo maintains his initial resurgence, there could be a few fireworks ahead.

Read more: Lewis Hamilton: Which driver will eventually replace him at Mercedes?

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