Ricciardo joined McLaren from Renault on a three-year deal starting in 2021, but struggled to get up to speed with the team at first, leaving teammate Lando Norris to score the majority of its points.
But Ricciardo bounced back after the summer break to score a dominant victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, marking McLaren's first win since Brazil 2012.
Ricciardo had been fighting at the front of the field throughout the weekend, qualifying fifth before finishing the sprint race in third place. He took the lead of the grand prix off the line, and led all but five laps en route to victory, setting the fastest lap while taking the chequered flag.
The performance was followed by a memorable radio message from Ricciardo, who said that he "never left" but just "moved aside for a while".
Ricciardo explained that his radio message came to him "in the moment", and was a movie quote that he had previously shared with his previous performance coach, but that it tied in to the significance of making a statement with his Monza display.
"I think it's from a movie where he's like, 'I never left, I just moved aside!' or something, we would joke about that sometimes," Ricciardo said in an end-of-season interview including Motorsport.com.
"But I guess the 'I never left' thing, it was part from that. But it wasn't like I wasn't planning it.
"I want to say I may have hesitated, because I didn't want to be like Valtteri where it's like, 'to whom it may concern'. I don't want it to be a sound clip to be like, 'fuck everyone!'
"But I definitely felt like there was a lot of people who had written me off and also that weekend, something was over me. Like, I wasn't surprised with how the result turned out.
"Even like the fastest lap on the last lap. There was just a lot of stuff that I wanted to just put out there and I was like, I just wanted to make a statement.
"So in the end, it was 'I never left' but the whole weekend, I felt like every day I was making some form of statement to myself at least."
Ricciardo managed to outscore Norris through the second half of the season (65-47), recovering from what he called a "nearly laughable" start to the year.
But the Australian said he felt at peace with how the season had started upon beginning the summer break, and was in a very different place by the time racing resumed in Belgium at the end of August.
"I remember flying back actually [after Hungary] and I felt at peace with having the time off and getting back to Europe," Ricciardo said.
"I felt like the break gave me what I needed. And I truly did feel different getting into the car at Spa. I just felt light again.
"The first half of the season, I guess was weighing on me. And I felt like I'd got rid of a lot of that, which was good for me."