Why Ricciardo’s Renault gamble could prove worthwhile
After over four years with Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo announced this week his decision to join drive for Renault from next season onwards. Luke Barry looks at the Australian’s move and how it could just pay off.
There’s a touch of the Lewis Hamilton about it all. Roll back the clock five years and it was the Briton making what seemed, at first glance at least, to be a rather backwards move from McLaren to Mercedes.
Fast forward to the present day, and Hamilton now boasts the most pole positions of any driver in Formula 1 history, has amassed a further 44 race wins in five and a half seasons to ramp up his total to 67 and is well on his way to a fifth world title.
Daniel Ricciardo is a driver who possesses the same killer instinct behind the wheel as Hamilton too. Famed for his bravery and reluctance to ever give up on an overtaking manoeuvre, the Australian isn’t accustomed to winning races the easy way. Think back to Canada and Hungary in 2014 or Azerbaijan last year for your proof.
At 29 years old, Ricciardo has approached an important juncture in his career. Out of contract with current employers Red Bull at the end of the year, the next deal he signed was always likely to define his F1 legacy. With potential suiters Mercedes and Ferrari closing their doors it seemed almost inevitable that Ricciardo would remain at Red Bull alongside young Dutch hotshot Max Verstappen.
And that’s what makes his move to Renault, a team that is currently behind Red Bull in the pecking order and without a Formula 1 win since Kimi Raikkonen’s Australian triumph in 2013, all the more surprising because in truth, nobody really saw it coming.
Ricciardo then has seen something none of the rest of us have, but so did Hamilton when he left McLaren for the then struggling Mercedes.
But before we get too carried away with the Hamilton comparisons, it’s important to remember that F1 was undergoing its biggest change in regulations in quite some time when Hamilton jumped ship. Mercedes were heavily rumoured to be the team to beat in the new turbo-hybrid era, and so it proved with Hamilton and partner Nico Rosberg dominating the 2014 season.
While new technical regulations will come into play in 2021, they’re unlikely to see the same kind of radical change that is going to completely reshape the form book and return Renault back to its glory days of 2005 and ’06.
So has Ricciardo been wise, or has he been manipulated by the Schumacher-Ferrari and Hamilton-Mercedes fairy-tales that have come before him?
This move is with a firm focus on tomorrow and not today, and it’s important to consider this to understand the logic in Ricciardo’s decision.
Since returning to Formula 1 in 2016, Renault’s progression has been impressive. Scoring just eight points in their comeback year, the Enstone-based squad languished down in ninth in the championship with drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer, but quickly climbed to sixth in 2017 after signing the highly dependable Nico Hulkenberg from Force India.
Half-way through this term, Renault lies fourth in the world championship (just one spot behind Red Bull) with more points than they scored in the last two years combined, and with the mite of one of the world’s biggest car makers behind it, looks to continue in this upward trend.
Red Bull are making strides themselves however. Largely considered to have the best chassis on the grid, the team have already taken three wins this year and are much closer to Mercedes and Ferrari than they have been in previous years.
So where’s the evidence Renault are going to manage to usurp Red Bull? Mercedes and Ferrari may well be the establishment but that’s the ultimate comparison Ricciardo has had to make. Despite the complexity of the issue, the answer is actually fairly simple.
Trust. The Renault power unit is a powertrain Ricciardo knows well from his time with Red Bull, but it’s one that his current team are set to ditch in favour of Honda.
Renault’s engine has struggled to match both the pace and consistency of its Ferrari and Mercedes counterparts, but it has fared far better than Honda has. The Japanese engine endured a torrid three years bolted onto the back of a McLaren, but has since made significant strides since switching to Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso.
Red Bull has been convinced, but has Ricciardo? The evidence clearly suggests he hasn’t.
It remains to be seen how the two compare in 2019 of course, but the pressure really is on Renault to deliver with a driver of Ricciardo’s calibre joining the works team alongside Hulkenberg whose F1 record does him no justice.
Having said that, there’s no doubt the prospect of lining up alongside Hulkenberg has been another temptation for Ricciardo, as despite the German’s prowess, he poses a much smaller and less explosive threat than Ricciardo’s current team-mate Verstappen.
The foundations are all in place for Ricciardo to build this team around him, and with such a bubbly character he is going to have no issue integrating with the team. Masterful drives such as his domination in Monaco this year mean Renault know what they’re getting; it’s now down to them to deliver Ricciardo with what he clearly believes he will be reciprocated with.
There’ll always be doubters and those quick to point the finger if Renault fail to make the pace gain Ricciardo is clearly banking on, but ultimately what has he got to lose? The dream of becoming world champion is far more likely when your team-mate isn’t destined for the same fate, and Red Bull have been unable to hit the top in over five years, so why should Ricciardo just sit and twiddle his thumbs? In reality, it’s the things you don’t do in life that you regret, not those that you do.