RIC­CIA­RDO TO RE­NAULT FOR ‘19

F1 Racing (UK) - - INSIDER -

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

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