Daniel Ricciardo’s shock decision to leave Red Bull to join Renault has provoked plenty of mixed reaction from around the Formula One paddock.
With moves to Ferrari and Mercedes ruled out, and McLaren using the same troubled power unit as Red Bull — a Renault customer engine — the only options available to Ricciardo were to stay at Red Bull — which will move into the unknown with a Honda engine next season — or become the lead driver at Renault.
For this reason Sky Sports Formula One presenter Natalie Pinkham described the move on Twitter as a “coup” for Renault and “very smart” by Ricciardo.
He will link up with German driver Nico Hulkenberg at Renault, with incumbent Carlos Sainz Junior making way — possibly to return to the Red Bull set-up.
Hulkenberg tweeted that he was looking forward to partnering with Ricciardo, which will be of comfort to the Australian after he endured a tough relationship with current teammate Max Verstappen — a relationship that came to a head earlier this season.
The two Red Bull drivers knocked each other out of the race at a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, after which Red Bull boss Christian Horner demanded both apologise to the team’s staff.
The stewards apportioned equal blame to both drivers, but the view of many in the pit-lane was that Verstappen was at fault for moving.
Hulkenberg, who is yet to finish on the podium from 147 Grand Prix starts is likely to play a supporting role to Ricciardo at Renault.
Former driver and race commentator Martin Brundle described the move as “bold” — particularly with Renault sitting a distant fourth in the constructors’ championship, 141 points behind current team Red Bull.
Renault ‘motivated’ by Ricciardo
The French team is understandably thrilled, with president of Renault Sport Racing Jerome Stoll saying via a statement that Ricciardo represented a unique opportunity for the constructor.
“Renault decided to come back to Formula One to fight for world championships,” Stoll said.
“Signing Daniel Ricciardo is a unique opportunity for the Groupe Renault towards this objective that could not be missed.”
Stoll admitted that Renault was still a work in progress, but that Ricciardo’s signing represented a significant shot in the arm for the team.
“We welcome Daniel’s arrival to our team, still in the making, but more motivated than ever,” he said.
Renault has not won a drivers’ championship since Fernando Alonso’s double in 2005 and 2006, but is considered to be a team on a steady path to improvement since returning to the sport as a constructor in 2016.
That season the team finished in ninth spot in the constructors’ championship with just eight points, but managed 57 points the following year to finish sixth and this season sit in fourth spot at the mid-season break.
That steady rate of improvement was noted by Ricciardo.
“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,” Ricciardo said.
“And I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won.”
Winning races is something that has not eventuated for Renault yet since the team’s return, with a pair of fifth-place finishes this season the best results so far.
Cyril Abiteboul, the managing director of Renault Sport Racing, noted that in order to capitalise on Ricciardo’s signing, the team would have to improve on that showing.
“Daniel’s undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team,” he said.
“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.”
Stepping out of Verstappen’s shadow
Not all the reaction has been positive.
Former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer told the BBC that the move was not a good one for the Australian.
“To be honest, it’s a backwards move for Ricciardo,” he said.
“They’re a team that’s on the up, but they are currently behind, there’s no two ways about it.”
Palmer, who raced in 35 grand prix for the French team from 2016-2017, suggested money may have been behind Ricciardo’s decision.
“I think money would have been a factor of sorts, because [Max] Verstappen was paid a lot of money to stay with Red Bull last year,” he said.
Palmer was referring to the contract extension signed by Ricciardo’s teammate Verstappen at the end of 2017 that locked the Dutchman in with Red Bull until 2020 – and made him the third-highest-earning driver on the grid behind multiple world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Money aside, Palmer noted that Ricciardo will feel much more valued at Renault.
“He’s come into a team that will be really excited to have him. They’ll be really pinning a lot of hopes on him to move forwards,” he said.
“It’s a little bit of the whole dynamic within the team which is better for him at Renault, even if they’re technically a little bit behind.”
Palmer also conceded that Ricciardo had little choice but to move away from Red Bull, where it was becoming clear he was falling behind his teammate.
“At Red Bull, I felt, and he probably felt, that he was just starting to slide into Verstappen’s shadow and that’s a dangerous place to be,” he said.