Ric­cia­rdo’s bold gam­ble

There’s some smart think­ing be­hind the Aussie’s move from Red Bull to Re­nault

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - by Mau­rice Hamil­ton

VERY few saw the Ric­cia­rdo-to-re­nault story com­ing. But now that it’s here, this bold move says as much about the cli­mate at Red Bull as it does about Daniel’s wish to take on a to­tally new chal­lenge with Re­nault.

The seeds of dis­con­tent were prob­a­bly sewn this time last year when Red Bull, ner­vous about ap­proaches to Max Ver­stap­pen, of­fered a deal Max would have been daft to refuse, as­sum­ing he ever wanted to leave the com­fort zone of the Red Bull sys­tem in the rst place. A pre­dictable knock-on ef­fect (no pun in­tended) came in Baku this year when the ab­sence of any in­ter­ven­tion from the pit wall in re­sponse to se­ri­ous wheel-bang­ing be­tween Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo meant a points-con­sum­ing col­li­sion was in­evitable.

Post-race com­ments from both driv­ers were straight from the PR hand­book but a per­sis­tent and grow­ing nig­gle was clearly ev­i­dent ve races later when Ric­cia­rdo was qui­etly crit­i­cal of the tow­ing strat­egy dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing in Aus­tria; Ric­cia­rdo feel­ing this was favour­ing Ver­stap­pen above and be­yond ev­ery­thing that had been pre­vi­ously agreed. This was at the be­gin­ning of July and Ric­cia­rdo’s un­char­ac­ter­is­tic pub­lic dis­play of dis­ap­proval, cou­pled with what we now know, sug­gests he was think­ing very hard about mov­ing on. But where? The chances of join­ing ei­ther Mercedes or Fer­rari were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly lim­ited to the point where Red Bull felt they held all the de­cent cards. A dis­cus­sion with Mclaren was no more than that. Re­nault was scarcely men­tioned.

Ric­cia­rdo weighed up the fact that, af­ter Mercedes and Fer­rari, Re­nault is the next – and only – fully works team; some­thing that Red Bull will never be, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the re­cent de­ci­sion to switch to Honda en­gines for 2019. This is clearly a long-term gam­ble since the cur­rent Re­nault pack­age is some way short of Adrian Newey’s cre­ation at Red Bull. The Aus­tralian driver, how­ever, will have noted on­go­ing ex­pan­sion at the Re­nault fac­tory and the un­pre­ten­tious rac­ing ethos that was born in En­stone three decades be­fore (orig­i­nally with South African de­signer Rory Byrne’s Tole­man and then with Benet­ton).

It’s also prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence Re­nault’s tech­ni­cal chief is (for the time be­ing) Bob Bell, the man re­spon­si­ble for play­ing a part in per­suad­ing Lewis Hamil­ton to make what ap­peared to be a risky move from Mclaren when, in a sim­i­lar role, Bell knew ex­actly what was in the tech­ni­cal pipe­line at Mercedes. There may be a con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ence be­tween the sta­tus, both nan­cial and prac­ti­cal, of Re­nault and Mercedes at these com­par­a­tive mo­ments, but it would be no sur­prise if Bell ap­plied his quiet and gen­uine en­thu­si­asm to the job of help­ing land such a prized catch.

Ric­cia­rdo will also have con­sid­ered the prospec­tive chem­istry with Nico Hülken­berg, an­other hard racer of roughly the same age and with a sim­i­lar easy-go­ing dis­po­si­tion. In the ab­sence of team or­ders and num­berone sta­tus, the new part­ner­ship will keep both driv­ers sharp and, along the way, raise Hülken­berg’s game even higher, a fact Danny Ric has doubt­less reg­is­tered. Be­ing aced by “The Hulk” would ef­fec­tively end the rise of the “Honey Badger” as a prospec­tive cham­pion, ei­ther with Re­nault, or with Mercedes, or Fer­rari, should seats be­come avail­able in the fu­ture.

The only down­side for Re­nault is the im­pend­ing loss of Car­los Sainz, de­scribed by one in­sider as “the real deal; hard to fault” and gen­uinely liked by this com­pact team. It must be even more difcult for Sainz to con­tem­plate a move to MclarenRe­nault where one of the few plus sides is an en­gine Sainz is fa­mil­iar with and the thought that the only way has to be up for a team with such fa­cil­i­ties and mis­di­rected po­ten­tial.

Speak­ing of en­gines; you’d think Ric­cia­rdo, with Red Bull’s seven power unit-re­lated fail­ures in the last nine months, might be wary of getting even fur­ther into bed with the French com­pany. Per­haps he’s noted just three such fail­ures for Hülken­berg and none for Sainz in the same pe­riod; which says ei­ther the works prod­uct is bet­ter or the shrink-wrapped Red Bull may present sim­i­lar prob­lems for the Honda. Who knows?

When ques­tioned about the move for the rst time at the Bel­gian GP at the end of Au­gust, Ric­cia­rdo re­mained dis­creet and said sim­ply it was time to move on and face a new chal­lenge. He’s got one. But if any­one can deal with this, it’s the Aus­tralian af­fec­tion­ately known as the Smiling As­sas­sin.

BY: Mau­rice Hamil­ton Mau­rice­hamil­ton

MAU­RICE HAMIL­TON is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed full-time F1 re­porter and au­thor. A CAR con­trib­u­tor since 1987, he also writes for The Guardian in Eng­land and is the F1 com­men­ta­tor for BBC Ra­dio’s 5 Live F1.

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