In the summer of 2018, Daniel Ricciardo shocked the Formula One world. His decision to leave podium-chasers Red Bull for midfield Renault caused aghast amongst fans, pundits and team principles.
Many created comparisons to Lewis Hamilton in 2012 with his decision to join then midfield, Mercedes, yet there was still widespread doubt over Ricciardo’s move, despite Hamilton’s success.
In the Netflix original documentary, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Red Bull Team Principle Christian Horner, put it down to the rising presence of Max Verstappen saying that Daniel was “running away from a fight”.
Maybe the admittance of Ricciardo’s advisor – in the documentary – that Red Bull’s focus is towards Verstappen supported such claim, yet the Australian was still adamant it is for a fresh start.
But how has this ‘fresh start’ transpired thus far?
Five races into his start at Renault with only one-point finish and two DNFs, the doubts are only increasing and if weekends like this remain the same for Ricciardo, then the regret may start to kick in.
Verstappen’s performances in the Red Bull certainly does not help the situation.
Third in the driver’s championship with two podium finishes in the opening five races, that could have been Ricciardo fighting alongside the Ferrari. Yet, Renault seem to be on a backward trajectory in 2019 and there is plenty of work ahead for this car to be competing at the front with Red Bull.
Ricciardo has talked about putting himself in the best car as the main thing, yet Renault cannot even claim to be the midfield’s best in 2019. The car has very much underperformed and is far off from where they wanted to be, despite their excellent pairing with Daniel and Nico Hulkenberg as drivers.
Albeit patience is required to judge the Australian’s move, but the future doesn’t look too good.
The presence of Max Verstappen
Throughout the history of Formula One, drivers have often cracked under the pressure of their exceptional team-mate, thus causing them to have the number two role.
Rubens Barrichello to Michael Schumacher, Valtteri Bottas to Lewis Hamilton and perhaps the pressure of Hamilton also caused Rosberg to retire, following his championship win in 2016. Yet Ricciardo certainly did not want to become a number two.
With a desire to be World Champion, an inability to achieve that target at Red Bull was something that caused him to look elsewhere he once said. But his former team are much closer to that target than Renault, regardless of his team-mate.
If Ricciardo truly believes he has the ability to become champion, then prove that against the very best in Max Verstappen and show why you are no number two driver, instead of looking elsewhere to be a solidified team leader.
He would have to come against him in some way, so why not beat him in the same car with a level playing field? Instead of attempting to gain an advantage which looks to be backfiring.
Red Bull wanted to keep Ricciardo, yet maybe the Australian didn’t want the fight from the Dutchman and lacked confidence in his chances. But moving teams is no way to prove your worth in the fight against him.
In the Netflix documentary, Christian Horner talked about Daniel’s main concern being with the engine, asking if the power unit will be able to compete with Ferrari and Mercedes in the foreseeable future.
And that concern is very much understanding.
Red Bull have had their fair share of engine problems with Renault over the years and eight times Ricciardo retired during 2018, many of which were power related. Yet Verstappen, too, has often received engine problems.
Therefore, one could understand why Ricciardo would leave Red Bull due to their power unit issues, but to then move to a team with the same engine is puzzling. Especially considering reliability seems to be less of a concern for Red Bull now, following their switch to Honda.
The Red Bull car has a better chassis than the Renault and now perhaps a better power unit, too, and with his current team on this worrying curve in 2019, then their only hope of competing at the front is when 2021 arrives.
It is still quite unknown what 2021 will bring to the performance of teams with the widespread regulations being put in place. But more recent success within F1, perhaps means the higher chance of winning remains with Red Bull.
Max Verstappen could win a championship at his current team in the foreseeable future, yet for Ricciardo to achieve such target with Renault is quite a daunting task.
Yes, Mercedes were perhaps in the same boat as Renault are now when Hamilton joined. But the ability of Toto Wolff also played a significant part, in which it may be difficult to see that same ability in Ricciardo’s boss, Cyril Abiteboul.
Which is why this move may end up in regret for the Australian, especially if Daniel truly believes that he has the ability to become World Champion.