Cyril Abiteboul named a possible replacement for Daniel Ricciardo should he not return to the team for the 2021 Formula 1 season.
While the 30-year-old Australian maintains that he does not regret his decision to leave Red Bull Racing, the team for which he won seven races and finished as high as third place in the driver standings during his five seasons there, his first season with Renault left a lot to be desired.
The “best of the rest” favorite entering the year, Ricciardo managed only a ninth place finish in the driver standings, and he did not finish any one of the season’s 21 races on the podium. He and the team did show promise, as he finished in fourth place in the Italian Grand Prix and recorded a total of five top six finishes.
But he is now in the second year of his two-year deal, and there is speculation that he won’t be back with the French marque.
He has been rumored as a possible replacement for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari or Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.
Helping to fuel this departure speculation is none other than team managing director Cyril Abiteboul.
Last August, the team signed Esteban Ocon to a two-year contract to replace Nico Hulkenberg beginning in the 2020 season. When they confirmed the 23-year-old Frenchman to their lineup, Abiteboul stated that he would like to pair another young driver with him in 2021.
Here is what he had to say at the time, according to RaceFans.
“It was important when given the opportunity to seize the opportunity of a complete driver in Daniel last year and we don’t regret that at Renault. Just like right now we think it’s the right moment to start having some fresher blood.
“I think it’s a trend actually you can see in several teams. We are also interested in young drivers with our academy. We hope and expect to have possibly one driver from that academy by 2021. So it’s also a shift of dynamic to start really welcoming young drivers in our line-up.
“It’s not something that we would have been capable of doing two years ago but I think with more maturity in the team we can now envisage that. And that would be a good test to see if we are capable of also managing that because it’s a different type of management. Managing some who is 20, 22 or in his thirties, that’s different.”
Now Abiteboul has named a potential replacement for Ricciardo. When discussing the possibility of signing Vettel to the team to replace Ricciardo after his current Ferrari contract expires at the end of the 2020 season, he did not rule it out, but he maintained his stance about seeking another young driver.
In his words, he would rather work with “tomorrow’s drivers than yesterday’s”. In discussing the matter, he stated that Christian Lundgaard could be in line to take Ricciardo’s seat next year. Here is what he had to say, according to Autosport.
“I don’t want to say no, as [Vettel] is a great driver, and a great champion. We worked together on the engine side and we won together. [But] I rather aspire to work with tomorrow’s drivers than yesterday’s. It really is very difficult to sum it up like that, so please don’t sum it up like that about Sebastian. Still, we also have a driver academy, with drivers who might come out of it in 2021 or 2022.
“We need to keep this in mind, as we created this academy in 2016 with the goal of having a driver graduate to F1 in 2021. Now 2021 is coming, we have to acknowledge it. Typically, there’s Christian Lundgaard. He’s an option among others: he’s got his F2 season to do, we’ve got our own season to do with Daniel.”
Christian Lundgaard is an 18-year-old Danish driver and member of the Renault Sport Academy who is set to compete for ART Grand Prix in Formula 2 this season. He drove for the team in Formula 3 last season and finished in sixth place in the driver standings with one win and two podium finishes in 16 races.
As a member of the Renault Sport Academy, he won the 2017 SMP F4 Championship and the F4 Spanish Championship driving for MP Motorsport. He has also competed full-time in the F4 Danish Championship (2017), Formula Renault Eurocup (2018), Formula Renault NEC (2018) and the GP3 Series (2018).
Other active Renault Sport Academy drivers include 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup Max Fewtrell, Caio Collet, Guanyu Zhou, Oscar Piastri and Hadrien David.
Will Daniel Ricciardo return to Renault for the 2021 Formula 1 season? If not, will Christian Lundgaard be his replacement? It appears as though that is the direction in which Cyril Abiteboul is looking at this time.