F1 2020, Daniel Ricciardo McLaren contract: Mark Webber Ferrari theory

Aussie legend Mark Webber has suggested a coveted Ferrari seat may not have been the one that got away from Daniel Ricciardo after the Aussie’s big move to McLaren was confirmed on Thursday night.

Ricciardo will leave Renault at the end of this campaign, yet to start because of coronavirus, and will race alongside Lando Norris after being signed to a “multi-year agreement” with McLaren.

Many commentators have speculated the move to the English team was a consolation prize for the 30-year-old after Ferrari announced Sebastian Vettel will be replaced by Carlos Sainz in 2021.

Vettel triggered an wild grid shake-up after it was announced this week the German star will walk away from Ferrari at the end of 2020.

While Ricciardo was on the surface the perfect fit to replace Vettel, reports have emerged there may have been more to it.

ESPN and The Age have both reported the decision for Ferrari and Ricciardo not to partner up in 2021 was mutual.

The Australian also reports Ricciardo was already in deep negotiations with McLaren even before news broke that Vettel and Ferrari would be parting ways.

The reports claim that while Ferrari elected to go with Sainz as a better-fitting teammate for young gun Charles Leclerc, Ricciardo himself was never sold on a move to the most iconic team in Formula 1.

Daniel Ricciardo is out the door.Source:Getty Images

Webber on Thursday night suggested Ricciardo’s surprisingly lukewarm interest in joining Ferrari makes sense if you consider veteran star Vettel’s decision to walk away from the team.

The former Red Bull great posted on Twitter he suspects Vettel had good reason for leaving Ferrari after getting inside information from close-friend and former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

“Deals getting done when everyone’s bored. Don’t underestimate who Sebastian gets plenty of counsel from, Bernie,” Webber posted.

“Could it be that the red car wasn’t particularly competitive pre-season, stable regs and a future budget cap?”

Webber’s theory is supported by the reports Ricciardo “passed up the chance” to join Ferrari — despite a large number of contradicting reports claiming the team always preferenced Sainz as its preferred candidate to replace Vettel.

ESPN reported Ricciardo would never have entertained an offer to join Ferrari as the No. 2 driver behind Leclerc.

His move to McLaren to partner rising star Norris appears to guarantee him status as the team’s top driver — or at the very least equality in the McLaren garage.

Ferrari’s team chief Mattia Binotto and Ferrari’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc.Source:AFP

It ends a turbulent partnership with Renault which has been dominated by reliability issues and the team’s slide to finish fifth in the constructor’s championship in 2020.

He failed to record one podium finish in 2019.

It seems he has now decided McLaren, who will switch to Mercedes engines in 2021, are the better bet for his long-term prospects.

“Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan and will bring an exciting new dimension to the team, alongside Lando,” McLaren boss Zak Brown said.

“I’m hugely optimistic about what Daniel can do for McLaren. He is a thoroughbred race-winner, a committed tough competitor and a great character.”

Ricciardo took to Twitter to express his gratitude to Renault before insisting his focus is on the current season, which could start in July in Austria behind closed doors.

“I am so grateful for my time with @RenaultF1Team and the way I was accepted into the team. But we aren’t done and I can’t wait to get back on the grid this year. My next chapter isn’t here yet, so let’s finish this one strong. Merci.”

Ricciardo’s move paved the way for Sainz to put pen to paper on a two-year contract with Ferrari, who described the Spaniard as “an ideal fit with our family”.

Thanks for the cheese.Source:Getty Images

Sainz, who finished sixth in the drivers’ championship last year and claimed his first podium when he came third in the penultimate race in Brazil, is widely expected to be the support driver for Leclerc.

“With five seasons already behind him, Carlos has proved to be very talented and has shown that he has the technical ability and the right attributes to make him an ideal fit with our family,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto.

“We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”

— with AAP

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