Daniel Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Racing in favour of Renault may seem a downward move from the outset but we delve in the details to explain why it was the best available option for the Aussie ace.
As the F1 community was taking in a relaxing summer break, the serenity was rippled by Daniel Ricciardo announcing the ‘toughest decision he has ever made’ to move to Renault for the 2019 season. Armed with a two-year contract, he will be leaving behind the Red Bull family he was part of since 2009.
Soon, the debates started raging about the sanity of his decision, with some likening it to Fernando Alonso’s disastrous move to McLaren from Ferrari in 2015 while more positive viewpoints saw it akin to Lewis Hamilton’s career-flourishing shift from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner claims they ‘bent over backwards’ to keep Ricciardo. “We gave Daniel everything he wanted and asked for, and it still wasn’t enough,” he claimed. “It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about status, or commitment, or duration.”
A Max shadow
So what was it about then? Certainly, one of the most plausible explanations on offer is that the 29-year-old veteran simply didn’t want to see himself playing second fiddle to the team’s young blue-eyed boy Max Verstappen, and realised he needed to forge his mark elsewhere. Although the team has always denied playing favourites, Verstappen somehow always seemed to pull in the bulk of the organisation’s weight behind him.
Daniel Ricciardo will not be walking in Max Verstappen’s shadow in 2019
At Renault, he will be on equal footing with another veteran, Nico Hulkenberg, and with Red Bull ditching Renault engines for the oft-problematic Honda powerplants next year, the decision was perhaps in part also driven by wanting to stay with the more reliable and proven Renault power.
However, as things stand, Red Bull are clearly the better team overall. Using identical powerplants, they have scored an average of 18 points this season while Renault trail behind at seven – nearly three times less than the Milton Keynes-based organization.
But those concerns are offset by Red Bull so far unable to guarantee its participation beyond the next two seasons while Renault is committed through at least 2024. That lends credence to Ricciardo’s confidence in placing the prime of his career in Renault’s hands and signaling that the French team is possibly on the verge of a rapid upswing that only he is privy to.
2005-06 constructors champions Renault will be aiming to reach the top again
A works team could work
However, hailing an upswing of the kind which so overwhelmingly justified Hamilton’s career-defining move to Mercedes in 2013 might be a bit premature. Keep in mind that before 2021, there are no major technical regulation changes on the cards which Renault can take advantage of in the way Mercedes did when it went on a dominating rampage with its solution for the V6 hybrid formula introduced in 2014.
The move also invites the question of who will take over the soon-to-be vacant seat at the team widely accepted as the third-best in the paddock? Horner has already ruled out Alonso, citing the ‘chaos he has caused whenever he has gone,’ which leaves Carlos Sainz, currently on loan to Renault and poised to be replaced by Ricciardo, and the highly impressive rookie Pierre Gasly from Red Bull sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso as prime candidates.
Ricciardo will not be too concerned about all that though. Come 2019, expect the steely resolve behind his famous toothy grin to push Renault for everything they are worth in the same way Alonso drove them toward championships in 2005 and 2006. And even if they do not eventually manage to topple the Mercedes and Ferrari juggernaut, with the ‘Honey Badger’ behind the wheel, it will certainly not be for any lack of trying.
Words: Sandeep Banerjee