Ricciardo To Renault Confirmed
Wow! Well this is a turn up for the books. There have long been rumours that Ricciardo was going to leave Red-Bull. But most suggestion indicated he would leave for either Mercedes or Ferrari or even McLaren (which was strange given their struggles...Yet it has now been confirmed by the driver, Red-Bull and Renault themselves that he will partner Hulkenberg in the yellow car for 2019. Even though Christian Horner said he was "close to signing a new deal"...hmmmm....Quite confusing then...Let's break this down to try and see how this happened, what this means for the driver market as a whole and for the future of both Ricciardo and Renault themselves. How, What, When & Why? There are various reasons why Ricciardo would have been the perfect fit for Ferrari (hence why he wanted to go there for so long) and one big, German, reason why he is not in Red for next season. Ricciardo is a proven race-winner and an exciting, over-taking ANIMAL. He is exactly the kind of driver that the Scuderia (or anyone for that matter) would love in their team...under any other circumstance. So, with Raikkonen now 38 years old and quite off the pace, why didn't this happen? It seems logical! Step up Sebastian Vettel...There have long been rumours (especially surrounding a possible Hamilton team-up) that The German has a "veto" regarding who is allowed to race him. Now, whether or not that is true (either is entirely possible) I am sure Ferrari had some consideration of what happened to Seb last time he went toe-to-toe with the Australian. In 2014, the 4 times champion was massacred by Ricciardo (3-0 wins, 9-4 podiums and a 71 point gap)...so quite simply, even if Vettel doesn't have a veto power, then Ferrari didn't want to rock the boat too heavily. A big shame. We wait to see if they change their line-up at all; considering the apparent "close relationship"... So, in all Daniel had to look elsewhere. With speculative interest from McLaren and quickly quashed talk of a Mercedes drive...we have to ask WHY he was desperate to leave at all. There are, of course, various reasons. The first might come from a feeling of being under-valued by Red-Bull. He certainly SHOULD be the number 1 driver of the team, having never been beaten by Max Verstappen over a season. But at the recent Austrian GP (where he was on the "verge of signing" on again) there was a serious fall-out between the two over qualifying; which seemed to suggest Red-Bull were favouring Verstappen. Which is their choice. Maybe this reason is far-fetched...but maybe Daniel wanted more! By far the biggest reason for Daniel leaving Red-Bull is of course the arrival of new engine suppliers to the team...Honda...Now, I know a few really do believe that the Japanese engines are going to do much better in the future compared to the current output and terrible reliability record with McLaren. Maybe Ricciardo knew more than those few...given that STR-Honda's data is open to Red-Bull! I have no doubt that RB-Honda will also suffer from next season on. Getting out now is the absolute right move for Ricciardo. Renault are on the way up...but that is something we will look at later. Sainz To McLaren...or to Red-Bull/Toro-Rosso? Anything Else? What does Ricciardo's move to Renault mean for the rest of the driver market? Well it certainly means that another door has shut off for Alonso, who might want to now look at Indycar unless McLaren can improve and fast. However, the main driver affected is current Renault man Carlos Sainz. The option which is currently being mooted is that both of these drivers will now team up at McLaren. Vandoorne would then be out of his F1 drive, unless a seat opens at Williams with Stroll linked to Force India or at Sauber with LeClerc possibly moving to Ferrari. But wait there's more below!
Sainz also might have the opportunity to return from Renault (where he is on loan) to Red-Bull...thus simply swapping with Ricciardo. Should a move to his parent team (which I already suggested would be a great match-up due to their spicy history at Toro-Rosso) fall through, with Red-Bull opting for young hot-shoe Pierre Gasly instead, It is possible Carlos could move back to STR-Honda. What is certain is that the pieces on the chess-board are now bound to move in exciting ways. Ricciardo is an F1 king in these terms and when the king moves the other pieces are usually ready to pounce. Ricciardo & Renault...A Force For The Future? Renault are an interesting team. Since their return, taking over Lotus in 2016, they have actually often underwhelmed. Even in the stellar Red-Bull chassis the engine has been quite slow at times and often unreliable. Yet, this was always going to be a long road and, as most predicted, they have done much better this year. There have been consistent strong point-scoring finishes from Hulkenberg. They are certainly on the way to reaching their target of challenging for regular podiums and the occasional win by 2020. By signing Daniel Ricciardo they have made a huge statement of intent. He and Hulkenberg, who are both amazing drivers, will push each-other to the limit. If their 2019 car turns out very well, which by current progress is entirely possible, they WILL make the most of Red-Bull's potential fall under Honda power and pick up the fight for podiums next season. Ricciardo is certainly playing the long-game. Hoping that Renault, as a manufacturer, will now surpass his old team and head for even loftier heights. He (like all F1 drivers) said he wants a championship as soon as possible. Renault are currently the team with the best chance of entering that big discussion. Especially if our sport remains hard on customer teams and closed to the idea of giving the teams far more equal cars to let the driver shine instead of the machine. Then again, if such a massive change did occur...you'd be a bit of a fool to bet against Daniel up against anyone else on more equal terms.