Daniel Ricciardo is to join Renault from Red Bull at the end of the season in a surprise move announced by both Formula One teams on Friday.
“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” he said in Renault’s statement confirming his deal.
“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 the track.”
The signing of Ricciardo – to replace Carlos Sainz – shows Renault’s signal of intent to improve, according to Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul.
“Daniel’s signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport,” he said.
“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.”
The surprise announcement will ripple through the driver market, with other teams set to shake up their line-ups as a consequence.
“Daniel Ricciardo has advised us that he is to leave the team at the end of the 2018 season,” Red Bull said in a statement without saying where he was headed.
Renault soon afterwards confirmed Ricciardo would join their Formula One team on a two-year deal and he would drive alongside Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg.
The winner of two races this season – the Chinese Grand Prix and Monaco Grand Prix – Ricciardo had also been linked to McLaren but the former, as a manufacturer team in fourth place in the championship, has won out.
Ricciardo had been out of contract at the end of the year and was assessing his options.
Any hope of joining champions Mercedes disappeared when they retained titleholder Lewis Hamilton and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas.
Glamour team Ferrari have shown no obvious interest either, with Sauber’s Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen if the 38-year-old 2007 world champion is not kept on.
The extrovert Australian, a fan favourite with his permanent smile and thrilling overtakes, had indicated before the August break that he was set to stay at third-placed Red Bull and was just “fine-tuning” details.
Former champions Renault are the best of the rest and had a vacancy, with Spaniard Carlos Sainz there on loan from Red Bull alongside Hulkenberg.