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The parallels between Ricciardo, Percat scenarios

PROVEN race winners joining iconic teams… what could go wrong?

As Australian Formula 1 fans learnt during the past two years watching Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren, plenty.

And there are certain parallels which can be applied to a high-profile recruit at another Zak Brown-owned squad: Nick Percat and Walkinshaw Andretti United.

In late 2021, WAU excitedly hailed Percat’s signing alongside incumbent star Chaz Mostert as a return to having two out-and-out A-graders and the chance to challenge for the teams’ championship.

The ability to be “fighting with two fists” has been a common catchcry, which team principal Bruce Stewart again trumpeted to V8 Sleuth just months ago.

But the harsh reality is the dream team barely hit its straps in 2022.

Part of that was down to WAU’s perennial inconsistency, which saw Mostert also running right at the rear of the grid on occasion – most notably at Perth.

But while Mostert’s rollercoaster featured peaks in the form of five wins and third overall in the championship, Percat’s sole piece of silverware came in the penultimate race of the season as WAU took a special Adelaide one-two.

Percat drove the retro-liveried #2 Commodore to the Adelaide podium. Pic: Walkinshaw Andretti United

Many tipped Percat, who was coming off four successive top 10 championship campaigns with Brad Jones Racing, to be unleashed at a resurgent WAU and be right there with Mostert at the very front.

Puzzlingly, that did not eventuate as Percat was crippled by struggles for one-lap pace, trounced 33-1 in the head-to-head qualifying stakes and just 15th in the standings.

Arguably heightened by the specific direction of Mostert/Adam De Borre over several years, WAU’s package seems a tricky one to come to grips with – just as Ricciardo experienced at McLaren – and Percat was not helped by a revolving door of engineers.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Like Percat, Ricciardo joined McLaren the season before technical regulations were overhauled.

So, when Ricciardo struggled to mesh with the MCL35M in 2021, it perhaps was not the be-all and end-all, given he’d have a totally different beast underneath him in year two in papaya.

But when things got even worse driving the MCL36 in ‘22, that’s when the alarm bells began to ring so loudly that McLaren could no longer ignore… and thus, Ricciardo’s rich contract was cut a year short in favour of fresh blood (compatriot Oscar Piastri).

An unexpected bromance blossomed between Percat and Chaz Mostert (left). Pic: Walkinshaw Andretti United

Similarly, Percat’s first-year blues at WAU will count for little if he’s able to show his true talent in the team’s Gen3 car this season.

The Clayton team is undergoing the biggest change of all, swapping to Ford’s new Mustang after the end of its historic Holden partnership.

On paper, Mostert/Percat still is arguably the best driver combination of any on the grid.

Will that now show? Or will there be a Ricciardo-type narrative where for whatever reason, no matter what model of car, there is a philosophy mismatch between driver and team?

What’s clear is that Percat took a gamble when he left the comfort of BJR for WAU and put himself up against Mostert.

Entering 2023, the stakes are higher than ever.

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