Formula 1: What Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault deal means for his future

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing prepares to drive on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 29, 2018 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing prepares to drive on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 29, 2018 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) /

Despite firm assurances that a new contract with Red Bull Racing was all but inevitable, Daniel Ricciardo has made a shock switch to drive for Renault in the 2019 Formula 1 season.

On the back of recent comments from Daniel Ricciardo, it was all but certain that the 29-year-old Australian would re-sign with Red Bull Racing over the Formula 1 summer break, with a deal said to be, in his own words, “definitely done by Spa”.

However, somewhat shockingly, in light of fresh rumors that Ricciardo was set to join Renault, Red Bull Racing announced this morning that he would be leaving the team at the end of the 2018 season to join Renault on a two-year contract.

In a prepared statement, here is what Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner had to say, according to Red Bull Racing.

"“We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and we wish him all the best in his future. We would like to thank him for his dedication and the role he has played since joining the Team in 2014, the highlights of course being the seven wins and the 29 podiums he has achieved so far with us.“We will now continue to evaluate the numerous options available to us before deciding on which driver partners Max Verstappen for the 2019 season. In the meantime, there are still nine races left in 2018 and we are fully focused on maximising every opportunity for Max and Daniel for the remainder of the season.”"

Shortly thereafter, Renault confirmed that they had signed Ricciardo to the aforementioned two-year deal, which will allow him to replace Carlos Sainz Jr. at the French outfit alongside Nico Hulkenberg next season.

On the new signing, Renault Sport managing director Cyril Abiteboul stated the following, according to The Drive.

"“Daniel’s signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport. It is also a recognition of the work accomplished over the past two and a half seasons. Daniel’s undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible. We welcome him to our growing team in 2019 with a great deal of pride, but also humility.”"

Ricciardo explained the following, according to The Drive.

"“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far. But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge. I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level but I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track.”"

Without question, this is a move that few (if any) saw coming.

Having recently admitted that the door had closed on a potential switch to Ferrari or Mercedes, the expectation (and seemingly best option) was that Ricciardo would lengthen his stay at Red Bull Racing.

Now, the “Honey Badger” is off to Renault after what could become his career-defining decision, and ultimately the difference between a future world championship or being stuck in the mid-pack mediocrity.

We’ll have to wait and see as to whether Ricciardo’s move resembles Lewis Hamilton’s masterstroke swap from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013 or Fernando Alonso’s notoriously disastrous shift from Ferrari to McLaren in 2015.

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Nevertheless, at face value, this isn’t necessarily a bad gamble for one of the top drivers on the grid, and certainly the best at “licking the stamp” and pulling off crazy-late overtakes.

Renault have made steady progress over the past two seasons, finishing in ninth place in the constructor standings with only eight points in 2016 to sixth with 57 points in 2017. They currently sit as the “best of the rest” in fourth with 82 points after 12 races this season.

As a works team on the rise, Renault have been tipped by many to be one of the major beneficiaries of changes to Formula 1’s technical (including engine) regulations for the 2021 season, which should (at least slightly) shake up the pecking order among constructors.

Furthermore, a two-year deal with Renault (theoretically) gives Ricciardo the contract flexibility to leave the team after a sneak-peek at development for the 2021 season and/or if they can or cannot provide him with a car capable of contending for race wins.

Meanwhile, at Red Bull Racing, it seems unlikely that the team will rapidly overtake Ferrari or Mercedes under the current rules, and supply of new Honda (ironically, replacing Renault) engines from 2019 onward. In this sense, Ricciardo need not worry too much that he has vacated a seat capable of contending with and beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the next two seasons.

Across the garage, Ricciardo also bids farewell to teammate Max Verstappen, who may or may not have influenced his choice to leave, with conflicting reports suggesting Ricciardo’s unhappiness with alleged Red Bull Racing favoritism toward the Dutchman.

Regardless of any tension, all signs would point to Ricciardo’s arrival at Renault as the clear “number one” driver over Hulkenberg, who is a quality competitor in his own right but does not nearly have the track record to match the Australian.

With all of that said, this is still a massive risk for Ricciardo. Renault are a very long way off the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing, and it could quickly turn into a seriously frustrating situation for Ricciardo as he waits for them to catch up, which they are in no way guaranteed to.

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Elsewhere around the paddock, Daniel Ricciardo signing with Renault should start a knock-on effect that fills a number of open seats for 2019. Pierre Gasly will be the early favorite to fill the void at Red Bull Racing given Carlos Sainz Jr.’s history with Max Verstappen. This would allow Lando Norris, Dan Ticktum or Pascal Wehrlein to slot in at Scuderia Toro Rosso, whilst Sainz could replace Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren, who, in turn, may get another shot in Formula 1 at Alfa Romeo Sauber if Charles Leclerc is promoted to Ferrari or Haas.