Daniel Ricciardo took a big gamble when he left the championship-calibre Red Bull team to join Renault for the 2019 and 2020 Formula One seasons.
It was a calculated risk for sure - but not all his bets paid off, and it may have cost him his chance to join a championship-calibre team in Ferrari.
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While Ricciardo’s Renault contract was incredibly lucrative, the Western Australian’s financial windfall would have been cold comfort after a troubled debut season with the French manufacturer, though there was
Both team and driver needed 2020 to be a significant improvement on 2019’s fifth place finish in the constructor’s championship, down on the team’s impressive 2018 campaign in which they lead the midfield.
Ricciardo made two bets by joining Renault.
His first bet was that Renault’s works team would be able to outperform Red Bull, who switched to Honda engines for 2019 after the long-running but increasingly acrimonious relationship with Renault, who had supplied the team with engines since 2007, broke down.
Not convinced Red Bull would remain as competitive with new engine supplier Honda, Ricciardo’s blushes were only spared, at least in part, by the mid-season driver change at that saw Pierre Gasly replaced by Alexander Albon.
Ricciardo’s other bet was that he alone would have the skill to haul the Renault further up the grid.
On occasion, this proved the case - Ricciardo’s fourth place in the Italian Grand Prix was Renault’s best for the season, while the yellow cars were also very quick in Canada - but the Australian was ultimately outperformed by Carlos Sainz, who had joined McLaren after losing his Renault seat to Ricciardo.
McLaren resurgence hurt Ricciardo’s Ferrari hopes
Salting the wound was the fact McLaren were powered by Renault engines in 2019 - further exposing the gap Renault needed to close to regularly achieve podium finishes and race wins.
Where it felt like Renault simply couldn’t get on a roll in 2019, despite some encouraging results, McLaren, spurred on by an incredible second half to the season from Sainz, took home fourth in the constructor’s championship and fifth in the driver’s standings.
Deals getting done when everyone’s bored. 😜 Don’t underestimate who Sebastian gets plenty of counsel from, Bernie. Could it be that the red car wasn't particularly competitive preseason, stable regs and a future budget cap?— Mark Webber (@AussieGrit) May 14, 2020
While Ricciardo would have been a handy veteran presence alongside young gun Charles LeClerc, who Ferarri recently signed to a long-term deal, former Australian F1 driver Mark Webber believes the way Vettel left the Italian team indicated Ricciardo might have been eyeing off the McLaren seat behind the scenes.
“Deals getting done when everyone’s bored. Don’t underestimate who Sebastian gets plenty of counsel from, Bernie (Ecclestone, former F1 boss),” Webber wrote on Twitter.
“Could it be that the red car wasn’t particularly competitive pre-season, stable regs and a future budget cap?”
McLaren, despite enduring several years mired in the midfield and at the back of the pack until 2019, could ultimately prove to be the perfect home for Ricciardo.
A historically competitive outfit, McLaren will be determined to prove they belong back on the podium.
Ricciardo, a proven race-winner, could be just the person they’re after. McLaren’s impending switch from Renault engines to the dominant Mercedes power units is simply the cherry on top.
His bet on McLaren bears plenty of similarities to his bet on Renault in 2018 - but if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.