Sport Motorsport Formula one: Renault builds a team around Ricciardo’s charm

Formula one: Renault builds a team around Ricciardo’s charm

Daniel Ricciardo and friends at Albert Park in Melbourne. Photo: Getty
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Alain Prost was one half of perhaps the most famous formula one rivalry of all time, so expect Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg to heed his warning that their contest at Renault must be tough, but sporting.

The man known as ‘The Professor’ is a special advisor at Renault, a team that has invested heavily in two mature drivers with something to prove.

It’s a recipe for trouble … and success.

Ricciardo has had 150 race starts for seven wins and 29 podiums, while Hulkenberg holds the dubious distinction of never reaching the podium in 156 starts.

Hulkenberg had the last laugh in Saturday’s qualifiers, however, pipping his teammate to snatch 11th place ahead of Ricciardo’s 12th.

The Australian is 29, Hulkenberg 31. They are neighbours in Monaco, but don’t expect them to meet for breakfast – Ricciardo explaining this week: “We are going to spend enough time together”.

The pair was relaxed and jovial at a Renault function this week ahead of Ricciardo’s manic week at his home Grand Prix. It’s an experience that has clearly amused Hulkenberg.

Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg share a moment. Photo: Andrew Tate/TND

“Yeah so far so good,” the German said of the craziness surrounding his new teammate in Melbourne. “It is not as bad as you think it is [being his teammate].

“We have a really strong relationship. He has my kind of humour and stuff, so we get along, it is quite a lot of fun and good laugh.”

Indeed, there appeared no lonelier place at Albert Park this week than the Red Bull merchandise tents, with the Woking outfit without an Australian starter for the first time since 2007.

Instead it’s invested everything in the raw talent, but more dour personality of the precocious Max Verstappen.

Ricciardo’s move to Renault has given him clear air from the sort of friction that cruelled Mark Webber’s time at Red Bull opposite Sebastian Vettel.

It’s a situation Prost knows well. The Frenchman spent six years from 1988 banging wheels with the late Ayrton Senna, first as teammates at McLaren and then as title rivals in opposing teams.

It was a bitter rivalry that blossomed into friendship with Prost’s retirement after winning the 1993 title with Williams. It is this human perspective Prost hopes to bring to his dealings with the star recruit Ricciardo and the stalwart Hulkenberg.

“It is very simple. I try to help the team to be better. With the experience that I have as an driver, also as a team owner,” Prost said.

“Only a few words can sometimes help and … that’s where the experience can help working with a different attitude.

Prost clearly values Hulkenberg’s work with Renault in the past two seasons, snaring a 10th place finish in 2017 and seventh in 2018, but Ricciardo is expected to make an immediate impact.

“Daniel has won some races, he was with one of the best teams in formula one so you can make a comparison, but I’m sure that Nico with Daniel together they are going to fight.

It is going to be quite a tough fight on the track. And I’m sure that it is going to be in a sporting way because at the end we want to get the team in the best level.”

But Prost knows exactly what he has to work with in Ricciardo, who has endeared himself to the paddock for his charm and grace under pressure.

“I knew him a little bit even from outside motor racing. I’ve been on some bikes with him,” Prost said. “And the good thing with Daniel is outside or inside or whatever, you know he is always the same – always laughing and being nice.

“The human side is also very important for team, to have personalities like this. I mean obviously two different personalities and we’re not going to ask Nico to be like Daniel or Daniel like Nico … but it is good to have two different characters because they can work in a different way.”

For his part, Ricciardo was just aiming to get through the weekend with a greater understanding of his car and team.

Nico Hulkenberg, Alain Prost and Daniel Ricciardo at Renault’s season launch. Photo: Getty

“Once I’ve gone through a race weekend with the team and seen not only where we stand in the order but also how Renault work over the course of a race weekend then I can probably understand a few more things,” he said.

The Australian also hopes to impart some of his Red Bull experience –  with the Renault engine causing him no end of frustration last season.

“So for sure there are some things behind the wheel, I’m sure that I can pick up and maybe put some focus on a particular area in the car where we can work, where i think more lap time is and where it is worth putting more energy into.

“But also I’m here to learn from Renault as well, I’m sure there are things that I will pick up and learn to grow myself. So hopefully we can give and take from each other.”

Watching over all this is Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who offered this observation as his two drivers riffed and laughed in front of their teammates.

“Just look at them, I think it is a perfect fit,” Abiteboul enthused, “a match made in heaven”.

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