With the Formula 1 season delayed until May at the earliest, ‘silly season’ speculation about where several high-profile drivers will race in 2021 has already ramped up in the absence of any actual races to discuss.
At the centre of the bumper driver market is Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, whose two-year deal with Renault is up at the end of this season.
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Along with Ricciardo, both Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are in line for new contracts heading into 2021, as well as former Ricciardo teammate Sebastian Vettel.
The affable Aussie driver has been linked to a move to Ferrari for some time, with the details of his relatively short term deal with Renault not lost on F1 pundits.
The consequences of Ricciardo’s contract and the need for the French manufacturer to produce results after a less than stellar 2019 campaign is not lost on Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul either.
While their preference would be to retain Ricciardo in 2021, Abiteboul left the door open for a potential Vettel signing during an interview with French broadcaster Canal+.
Despite the allure of four-time world champion Vettel, Abiteboul said his preference would be to promote someone from the team’s in-house driver academy, should Ricciardo choose to move on from Renault.
“I don’t want to say no because he’s a great driver,” Abiteboul said.
“He’s a great champion, we worked together on the engine side, and we won together.
“But I’m maybe more inspired to work with the drivers of tomorrow than yesterday. It’s very harsh to sum it up like that, so please don’t sum it up like that to Sebastian.”
Renault would prefer to retain Daniel Ricciardo
As for Ricciardo, while Abiteboul said the Australian was ‘very attached’ to is decision to move to Renault, it was impossible to ignore his standing within the driver market.
After sensationally moving from established championship contender Red Bull at the end of 18, Abiteboul believes Ricciardo has a point to prove about his decision to switch teams which will help the French manufacturer retain his services in 2021.
“He will obviously be someone who’s very much courted (by the other teams),” Abiteboul said.
“I worry that things will go quickly, and so we need to be very alert to not lose opportunities.
“I think Daniel is very attached to his decision to go to Renault – which was heavily criticised, notably by certain parts of the British press who didn’t understand it.
“He’s someone who is guided by his emotions and I think he wants to show that he can be true to his choice. He wants to show that his choice was a good choice.”