A week on, the dust has barely settled on the shock news going into the F1 “Summer Break” as Daniel Ricciardo announced he was quitting Red Bull and heading to Renault. With time to ponder the news, and look at some of the statements both Daniel and others have made, I thought I’d take a look at what is the biggest contract deal Daniel will have ever done and may ever do in his career.
Back in March this year, just two days after the start of F1 testing in Barcelona, I sat down with Daniel and asked him if the performance of the car would have a direct impact on his plans for 2019. He didn’t beat around the bush “It’s the biggest thing for me right now, If I can be in a winning car, that’s my first objective”
With everyone asking him outright “Are you going to stay” he was clear; “It’s pretty simple, if we go out and win the world title, I’m not leaving Red Bull”.
If we look now at the results for the season, and put in your mind that Daniel has an important contract decision to make – it doesn’t bode well for Red Bull. They’ve won just three of the twelve races, had seven retirements between their two drivers so you’d have every right to be shopping around.
All the good money though at the start of the year was on Daniel heading to Mercedes or Ferrari. Perhaps if they offered him the Number 2 to Lewis or Sebastian he may have considered it, but both those seats were off the table, so going into the final race before the break it seemed likely Daniel would sign with Red Bull.
Daniel started the Hungarian Grand Prix in 12th, and powered through the field to finish 4th – Impressive, but not a World Championship winning performance.
Ricciardo himself on the announcement said “Personally I felt it was time now where it was good for me to move on and have a fresh start somewhere else, I think it will be healthy for me.”
But perhaps it’s the words of his Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner that are the most insightful here. Speaking to Tom Clarkson on the Beyond the Grid F1 podcast, Horner said “I can’t help but feel that he wants to be a leading role, perhaps in a smaller environment”, Horner went on to say “The competition between he and Max is intense.. Max is growing stronger and stronger” and if Daniel had ever gotten that feeling directly from his boss – you can bet your life he would always feel like the second fiddle in the team.
Horner almost reiterated the line again when he told Clarkson “I also feel that he sees Max growing and growing in terms of speed an strength, and he doesn’t want to play a support role – for want of a better word, not that they are treated in any way different – they would have had equal status…”
“But I can’t help but feeling that’s a large part of his decision making.”
So from Daniel’s perspective – are they truly equal, or will there always be some favouritism toward Max? That has to play heavily on your mind.
Horner clearly never expected the Renault move, saying “It’s an enormous risk at his stage of his career”
Red Bull tried pretty much everything to keep Daniel Ricciardo. Horner said.”At the end of the day we gave Daniel everything he wanted and asked for.. it still wasn’t enough in his mind.” “It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about status, or commitment or duration”
Interestingly, Red Bull knew there was another chance at Ferrari or Mercedes in 2020 if Daniel might have wanted, Horner saying “We were even prepared to do a one year agreement so he was available to Mercedes or Ferrari should they came knocking in a years time…”
The bottom line from Horner; “It might be an inspired choice, it might be one he regrets…”
One wonders if Ricciardo looked back at the career of his Aussie predecessor Mark Webber for some inspiration on that front.
When asked by Tom Clarkson recently about his move from Jaguar to Williams in 2005, Webber said categorically “It was a stuff up”.
Mark Webber had been offered the seat alongside Fernando Alonso at Renault, instead option to join Williams – for context adding “Renault had not won any races at that point”, but as the record books show, Fernando Alonso went on to win the 2005 and 2006 World Championships at Renault – Webber himself knew at the very start of the season they were in trouble “When we got to Melbourne, we said that was a poor decision”
So the question is, has Daniel Ricciardo made the move that Mark Webber regrets not making, and could it lead to stronger results for the Aussie In 2019 & 2020.
Honda’s engines are not World Championship material – yet. And that’s the risk that lay before Ricciardo staying with Red Bull.
However Renault’s own engine in the back of the Red Bull has been less than impressive in terms of reliability – though the Renault factory cars have finished more Grand Prix than Red Bull in 2018. Could it be that Red Bull is pushing the boundaries of the Engine? Is that required to win a World Championship?
The simple fact is that Renault is a team – as Christian Horner himself admits, are on the ascendancy. If history repeats, the three years the team has had back in the sport are the warm up to the World Championship era, but that is – by any measure – a long shot.
One would assume that Daniel’s real hope is to challenge the top three teams regularly and get Renault their first podium, let alone race win in their current era as a team.
Two strong years with Renault could keep Daniel in the race for a top flight seat in 2021 when all the F1 rules change once again – but that’s way to far away to consider now.