There’s nothing so hard to get rid of as a deeply held grudge and the likeable Daniel Ricciardo has caused one or two along the way during his Formula One career. Having been educated as part of there Red Bull junior driver programme, Ricciardo became the new big hop[e for the Milton Keynes based team when he replaced Mark Webber in 2014.
However, Red Bull and their partner Renault were ill prepared for the might of the Mercedes V6 Turbo hybrid power unit which beam all conquering following the F1 engine regulation changes for 2014.
Ricciardo top dog at Red Bull
Ricciardo outperformed his quadruple world champion team mate that year who then decided the time was right to accept Ferrari’s offer to ‘do a Schumacher’ and help the Scuderia return to winning ways.
This left Daniel top dog at subdued Red Bull and his years five years with the worlds championship winning squad saw him see off the challenge of almost everyone Reed Bull could place alongside him.
Even when Max Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso in 2016, Ricciardo had the measure of his upstart young team mate and again beat the Dutch driver over the course of the 2017 season.
Come 2018 and Verstappen was now more mature and Ricciardo was struggling to keep ups with him. Then came the spectacular crash between the two in Baku at the end of the long main straight which ended both drivers’ Grand Prix.
Baku burned Daniel
It seemed Christian Horner favoured Max’s side of the story and from then on Ricciardo acted as though he was marginalised deciding to leave Red Bull during the autumn races.
McLaren had conversations with Ricciardo, but it was Renault who captured the Aussies signature for 2019, a decision Ricciardo appeared to soon regret.
The season was a poor one for Renault who the previous season had finished fourth in the constructors’ championship and despite Ricciardo beating his team mate Nico Hulkenberg, he clearly decided he had made the wrong choice in signing for Renault.
As early as May in 2020, McLaren were telling their employees, Ricciardo was joining them for 2021. This was all precipitated by Ferrari recruiting McLaren’s Carlos Sainz to replace the soon to be released Sebastian Vettel.
McLaren promise the earth
McLaren were keen to fill the Spaniards seat quickly and moved early in 2020 to secure the services of Daniel. Yet the arrival of the driver from Perth also coincided with McLaren building a difficult car to drive. In fact Carlos Sainz revealed as he sailed off to Italy, that the McLaren of 2020 had been on a ‘knife edge’ as he jokingly wished Daniel Ricciardo ‘good luck.’
Daniel did win the 2021 Italian Grand Prix edging out his team mate Lando Norris and becoming the first driver to win for McLaren since Jenson Button back in 2012. But this was to be his only joy of the year in terms of podium finishes and Daniel ended the season on 155 points having scored 119 for Renault the season before.
Ricciardo never got to grips with the McLaren car and in his second en route to scoring just 37 points for the team McLAren decided enough was enough. Ricciardo received a payoff for an undisclosed amount, though it is believed to have cost McLaren $15m to move the Australian driver on.
The Renault F1 boss at the time of Ricciardo’s employment by the team believes Ricciardo was too hasty and poorly advised when he decided to leave the French F1 team after just one year in their car.
Aussie accused of leaving too soon
Ricciardo allegedly based his decision on the fact that Renault had slipped from fourth to fifth in the constructors’ title race during his first year with the team, a decision then boss Cyril Abiteboul now says was “selfish.”
“He makes his decision in April or May” Abiteboul told the Dans La Boite a Gants podcast. “The world is at a standstill [due to COVID]. We don’t know how we’re going to get back on track, if we’re going to get back on track.
“In fact, I think it’s a very early move, a bit selfish because, in the end, it will have given the team just one season’s chance. And so it’s true that it’s a decision that I’m taking badly.”
Abiteboul had hailed the arrival of Ricciardo as a fillip for the team as they launched together what the former team boss described as ‘a long term project.’ The just over a year in, Ricciardo bails on the project leaving Abiteboul feeling raw, something he admits.
“Selfish” decision got F1 boss sacked?
“Of course because I can see that it’s a personal rejection. I take it completely personally. I accept it. And I can see what the consequences are going to be.”
Renault then sacked Abiteboul in January 2021 ahead of rebranding its Formula 1 team as Alpine. Renault had purchased the Lotus team and returned as a constructor in 2016, all of which had been overseen by Abiteboul who rightly believes Ricciardo in part got him the sack.
Yet it was not all Daniel’s fault, and Renault today must still examine the way they operate and why this doesn’t bring them greater success on track.
Renault’s big successes in F1 were as an engine supplier and despite being a works factory team on and off over the past 30 years, they have never claimed the accolades of their engine division who partnered with the likes of McLaren and Williams.
French F1 team have fundamental problems
Further, the culture within Renault is for the automotive car making board to have ‘input’ rather than allowing the team to work autonomously. This is something recently sacked Otmar Szafnaeur referred to as part of his frustration after being sacked during the 2023 season.
In F1 drivers come and go and at times team bosses are linked to the fortunes of their drivers, and so Abiteboul may have backed the wrong horse and received his marching orders accordingly.
Yet the tale of underperformance with F1’s French team is bigger than either Ricciardo or Cyril Abiteboul, it is endemic in the way Renault operate as a business and until this changes they will always be a ‘back of the midfield’ F1 worlds team.
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