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Daniel Ricciardo: Why Renault was the only choice for F1's unwanted megastar

Written by  Aug 09, 2018

So nearly a week has passed since the news that shook the Formula 1 world, Daniel Ricciardo is to leave Red Bull and drive for Renault in 2019.

A driver from one of the sport's exclusive top three elite is taking a step back to race for a French manufacturer desperate to rekindle their glory days.

Arguments have been made for and against, yet over the past six days, for this writer at least, I have struggled to wonder what it actually all means for his future.

The years of frustration at Red Bull have been arduous, arriving just as their spell on top came to an end in 2014 and being forced to go year after year with the team close but not close enough.

That's the first reason why calling time after five seasons made sense, as much as the squad at Milton Keynes try, they simply can't get on the level of Mercedes and Ferrari and next season, with Honda, that won't change.

The reason why though was simple, the engine. This year's RB14 is more than a match for what came out of Maranello and Brackley, yet the Renault power unit simply isn't up to the task both on performance and reliability.

And that's why a move to their works teams seems like such a risk, sure the Enstone-based outfit has made great strides to now sit as the lead midfield team, but even that position is under risk because their engine can't compete with their rivals.

The Ferrari-powered Haas is quicker as is Sauber's Charles Leclerc most of the time. Force India and Williams, the Mercedes customers, would be in a similar position too but a mixture of financial problems and a flawed car design has allowed Renault to be in front at the majority of races.

The gap to the front also remains huge, at Hockenheim, one of the more conventional circuits, Nico Hulkenberg was 1.3 seconds off pole position on a layout where the fastest time was a 1m11.2s.

On a longer, more power hungry track at Silverstone, no Renault made Q3 and the gap to pole was 2.1 seconds, an age in F1 terms.

That is the scale of the challenge that faces Ricciardo, and despite him comparing it to Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes in 2013, achieving a similar rise now is almost impossible, particularly as Renault don't have the resources or the pending change in regulations that their German rival did.

For all that though, he was right to leave Red Bull because, if we're honest, none of the top three teams really wanted him.

Here he was, a potential future world champion out of contract at the end of the year yet Mercedes and Ferrari, who both had seats available, did nothing.

Why? Because they knew signing the 'Honey Badger' would upset their prized possessions, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. On his day, Ricciardo is more than capable of beating them both and has already done so in the case of the current Ferrari No.1.

It is remarkable that in sport, a team is happy to settle for something less than the best possible line-up yet that is just the rather screwed up mess that F1 is.

Then there was another obvious elephant in the room as to why the charismatic 29-year-old couldn't stay where he was, their own golden boy Max Verstappen.

Red Bull can say all they want about no team orders or favouritism and they are right to an extent, but that still doesn't detract from the fact that the Dutchman is the man they have selected as their future torchbearer.

His incident-ridden start to 2018 was proof why they can't go all in just yet, but now that Max does seem to have mellowed he will certainly be their top priority going forward.

That mentality was already encroaching on Ricciardo's position in the team and with the writing on the wall, he was right to escape from that shadow before it started to impact his own career.

Going forward, Renault do have the potential to be a front-running team and there is the reassurance that this move could well only be a two-year trial, with the grid likely to look very different in 2021 as opportunities at Mercedes, Ferrari and maybe even Red Bull will be back on the table.

New rules could well allow other teams to finally catch up too, potentially making that the most likely opportunity for the French manufacturer to once again become genuine contenders for wins and championships.

In the meantime, Ricciardo will likely need Fernando Alonso-style levels of patience and commitment before success returns his way, and hope that Honda doesn't start producing a rocket ship.  

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