Aussie F1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo has moved to the team many believe he should have with been all along, signing up with McLaren from 2021 after a tumultuous tenure with Renault.
What started with so much promise – as a proven F1 winner paid the 2018 “best of the rest” Renault a massive compliment by jumping ship from the front of the pack – has ended less than 18 months after it began.
It continues a tough few years for the 30-year-old from Western Australia.
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As the tide turned at Red Bull with wunderkind Max Verstappen usurping Ricciardo’s position at the top of the team, the Aussie’s car let him down, breaking down a ridiculous eight times in his final season and saw him finish sixth in the drivers’ championship, his worst season since 2015.
It was August 2018 that Ricciardo announced he was trading the top of the grid at Red Bull for potential at Renault, it seemed like he would be free to exceed expectations.
But with his time at Renault coming to an end less than two years after it began, all hope of the relationship ended with a thinly veiled swipe.
While Ricciardo will still be in the Renault seat until the end of whatever comes of the 2020 season, it’s set to be an awkward time.
Ricciardo stand next to his new teammate Lando Norris.Source:Getty Images
In contrast to McLaren’s glowing farewell to Carlos Sainz Jr. who went to Ferrari, Renault didn’t even mention Ricciardo, despite the likes of world champions Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel named as potential drivers to fill the empty seat.
“In our sport, and particularly within the current extraordinary situation, reciprocated confidence, unity and commitment are, more than ever, critical values for a works team,” the statement from Cyril Abiteboul read. “I am confident that the 2020 season will allow us to accomplish even more together. Our ambitions and the strategy of Renault DP World F1 Team remain unchanged.”
But it wasn’t the first time the teams’ frosty relationship with its star driver has hit the headlines with neither seemingly firing throughout its brief relationship.
BAD LUCK AND UNFULFILLED PROMISE
While Red Bull stood in the way of Ricciardo joining Renault for Pirelli tyre tests in late 2018, Renault F1 team executive director Marcin Budkowski told Motorsport.com that it “means other people are afraid of us”.
Ricciardo was saying all the right things through testing, saying he felt “cosy” with his new team but it didn’t appear to go near the heights expected of the partnership.
Kicking off the season at home in Australia, Ricciardo’s race was effectively over in five seconds after being squeezed onto the grass and destroying his front wing. It was officially over in the 32nd lap and continued his cursed home record.
It all started so well for Renault.Source:Getty Images
It didn’t get much better in Bahrain in week two when Ricciardo admitted it would take some time to get used to the new team.
“I knew it would take time, but in my heart, I just expected to jump in the car first lap and be like ‘sweet, we are going to be good’,” he told Motorsport Week.
“So coming a step back as far as grip and handling, it is no secret that we are not on the pace of the car I had last year. So that is something I need to figure out again.”
The issues continued to persist throughout his first season behind the Renault wheel.
Red Bull even took aim at Renault’s “communication strategy” when Adviser Dr. Helmut Marko said “Renault is good at (showing data)”.
“They showed us charts over and over again, showing the engine will be massive next year. He (Ricciardo) will have just believed it.”
While a petulant swipe from his former team, it spoke volumes with issues continuing to hamper Renault.
Ricciardo toed the line for the team all season talking about turning a corner, almost trying to will it into existence but fell foul of stewards more than once. At the French Grand Prix, he copped two five-second penalties, a one microsecond issue on his second-fastest qualifying lap saw him start from the back of the grid in Singapore and the controversial disqualification from the Japanese Grand Prix after being deemed to have used an illegal driver aid with a brake bias system was revealed when Racing Point wanted to copy it.
It was a season punctuated by bad luck, technical issues and unfulfilled promise.
Ricciardo showedSource:Getty Images
RENAULT’S MIXED MESSAGES
But the mixed messages came thick and fast.
With Esteban Ocon signed up to replace Nico Hulkenberg, Abiteboul warned Ricciardo of a bumpy transition.
Then the high of the season came in Italy, where Ricciardo finished fourth, with Hulkenberg in fifth, Renault’s best result since it returned to F1 in 2016. Bizarrely soon after the announcement and with Ocon signed up, Abiteboul said it was the right time for “some fresher blood”.
But despite getting Ricciardo to the team, Abiteboul admitted Renault were unprepared to bring in a driver the skill and profile of the Aussie.
Under the spotlight that comes with one of the F1’s biggest names and most popular personalities, Abiteboul told Motorsport.com that his contract pilled the pressure on the team and they weren’t able to live up to the hype.
“I can see more positive things spinning out of Esteban. It’s not that Daniel was negative, because I praise what Daniel has pushed the team to do,” Abiteboul said.
“But he put pressure on the team with the expectations he created in the media sphere by joining the team. It’s what we wanted, but de facto, he create a huge amount of expectation, way above what we promised.
“And by doing that it has led to a reaction from the team when we saw we were not at the required level.”
Daniel Ricciardo looks concerned.Source:Getty Images
THE DECISION TO MOVE ON
Coronavirus struck and any and all plans were sidelined. Without being able to step into his 2020 Renault in a race before making a decision, his current team couldn’t prove it had made steps forward over the off-season.
While McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown admitted the team had been close with Ricciardo for years and had been speaking since before the virus struck, plenty of downtime has left plenty of meeting and reflection time, allowing the parties to pounce on the opportunity left when Sebastian Vettel announced he was moving on from Ferrari.
Ricciardo is looking at a brighter future.Source:Getty Images
Since then, Ricciardo has been heavily praised for stepping away from Renault despite the teams being locked in the battle for “best of the rest”.
F1.com’s Lawrence Barretto said it was a hugely important decision.
“Ultimately, Ricciardo couldn’t afford to take another risk on Renault, despite them being a manufacturer with a healthy budget and impressive facility,” he wrote. “In his mind, that could be the end of the line for him in F1. He realised this could be his last big move.”
Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle said Ricciardo just needed to get out of Renault.
"Daniel has parked himself at Renault and I don't feel he's ever really looked happy there. It hasn't fitted,” he said.
“He hasn’t enjoyed it there (at Renault). I barely remember seeing Daniel through last season. We used to see him all the time with that big flip-flop smile but for some reason it just didn’t work for him there.”
He also said Ricciardo clearly saw something that didn’t fill him with confidence.
Ricciardo and Norris will make a fun team.Source:Getty Images
Sky Sports’ Karun Chandhok said he understood why Renault were so furious with Ricciardo.
“Daniel's move to McLaren has unsurprisingly and understandably not gone down well at Renault,” he wrote. “The French giant reportedly paid him over £40m ($A75m) for a two-year deal but believed he understood that this was a long-term program and that Daniel bought into their plan of rebuilding the team up to being a frontrunner. Now, one year in, he has basically given them a vote of no-confidence to join the team that is their direct rival in the midfield. Not exactly value for money when you consider they have to go through whatever races we have this year awkwardly hiding things from him.
“If he had gone to Ferrari or Mercedes, I can imagine Renault being a bit more understanding, but the move to McLaren, after taking a large chunk of their budget that could have been used to hire more aero people to make the car faster does not really look good for Renault.”
At least anecdotally, it seems like McLaren will be a happier hunting ground for Ricciardo. He gets along well with teammate Lando Norris, the team are bringing in the almost infallible Mercedes engine, and it could be an intriguing option ahead of the 2022 driver rules changes.
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