RICCIARDO TO RENAULT FOR ‘19
IT IS A MAJOR COUP FOR RENAULT, WHO HAVE BEEN MAKING MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS IN THEIR TEAM SINCE REACQUIRING IT
While the talks between Mclaren and Red Bull over Key are likely also to encompass driver exchange negotiations – in June, Marko made a play to sign Mclaren reserve driver Lando Norris to replace Brendon Hartley at Toro Rosso – the entire midfield driver market has been thrown into disarray by Daniel Ricciardo’s shock defection to Renault from 2019.
It was known that Renault were among the teams with which Ricciardo was having talks, but most insiders – along with Red Bull themselves – believed that his range of credible opportunities had narrowed to the point where he would have to stay put. Ricciardo himself had suggested to reporters during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that a new Red Bull contract was virtually a formality, and that only a few details required “fine tuning”. Instead, his new twoyear deal with Renault was revealed in a flurry of announcements on the Friday after the Hungaroring as this issue of F1 Racing went to press. He will partner Nico Hülkenberg.
“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” said Ricciardo in a statement. “But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge.”
It is a major coup for Renault, who have been making major infrastructure investments in their team since
reacquiring it at the end of 2015. During that timeframe their relationship with Red Bull, with whom they won four consecutive world championships from 2010 to 2013, has broken down irretrievably. Renault have struggled to achieve the same levels of reliability and power as their rival engine manufacturers during the hybrid era, and it is this, combined with their new ambitions as a constructor, that broke the marriage and prompted Red Bull to embrace Honda power from 2019 onwards.
The reliability problems have continued to manifest themselves this season, but Renault are now at the forefront of the chasing pack behind the top three teams. Whether Ricciardo eyes this deal as a long-term prospect – Renault’s publicly stated aim is to become a championship challenger – or simply a better short-term arrangement than Honda remains to be seen.
Ricciardo’s move also has repercussions in the wider driver market, and the impact will be most keenly felt by Mercedes, who will have to re-think some of their plans for their junior drivers. Renault were understood to have been in advanced negotiations to take Esteban Ocon on loan, while Ocon’s seat at Force India was expected fall the way of Lance Stroll, assuming the team survives [see page 22]. Stroll’s Williams drive might then have been taken by rising British star and Merc protégé George Russell. Ricciardo’s occupancy of the seat earmarked for Ocon will stall this entire manoeuvre.
The move also leaves Carlos Sainz unexpectedly a free agent. Red Bull hold his contract, and it would be logical for him to slot straight in to Ricciardo’s place, but Sainz was reportedly growing disenchanted with being kept serially ‘on hold’ by Red Bull, and was close to reaching an agreement with Mclaren. In that scenario, Pierre Gasly is the most likely Red Bull candidate, potentially leaving two 2019 places vacant at Toro Rosso if they drop Hartley.
“THE MOVE ALSO LEAVES CARLOS SAINZ UNEXPECTEDLY A FREE AGENT. RED BULL HOLD HIS CONTRACT AND IT WOULD BE LOGICAL FOR HIM TO SLOT STRAIGHT INTO RICCIARDO’S PLACE
All of which returns us neatly to the beginning, and the negotiations currently in play between Mclaren and Red Bull. The Mclaren driver situation is fluid: they are keen to keep Lando Norris “in the family”, according to Zak Brown, though they have cooled on their initial intentions to promote the 18-year old into an F1 race seat for 2019.
Why? Because Norris has had some difficult races in F2; and Fernando Alonso’s F1 future remains uncertain. Mclaren want to keep Alonso, but he will not decide on his plans until after the F1 break. This is what prompted Mclaren to court Sainz as a replacement or team-mate for Alonso, but the Red Bull vacancy has added a new layer of uncertainty – both for Sainz and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Hülkenberg and Ricciardo will be team-mates at Renault next season in a strong line-up for the French manufacturer
The midfield shuffle that was about to take place has been halted following Ricciardo’s shock move. Ocon (left) was due to to replace Sainz (centre) at Renault. Sainz could slot in at Red Bull or still join Mclaren, possibly in place of Alonso (right) if he decides to leave F1