Daniel Ricciardo's Renault move bombshell, one year on

Renault F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo

Last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix marked a year since Daniel Ricciardo made a life-changing decision that sparked a sequence of moves elsewhere on the grid. In one of the biggest driver transfers for some time the multiple race winner ditched Red Bull for Renault on a two-year contract. In an open media call in Budapest 12 months on from that decision Ricciardo reflected on the decision, the subsequent reaction, and how life at Renault has lived up to expectations.

“12 months… it doesn’t feel like it was 12 months ago,” ponders Ricciardo in Renault's hospitality unit in Budapest. “More like six, it’s gone quick! I remember coming into the weekend I was still a little bit oblivious as to what was going to happen, where I’d end up.

“I remember as the weekend progressed, I think Friday or Saturday, it was like some teams are really pushing now, they need to know answers, this driver needs to make a decision there, it all started to ramp up. It was like Sunday night, like, ‘we're gonna really need to decide what to do’."

There had been discussions with Ferrari – albeit a parlance half the grid could seemingly relay – while Ricciardo “won’t lie, I definitely spoke to [McLaren] for a bit,” but ultimately it boiled down to a choice between Red Bull and Renault.

Renault had been chasing Ricciardo as a marquee signing for the next phase of its Formula 1 journey, while Red Bull was confident that its offer on the table for the Australian – who had initially joined its young driver scheme a decade previously – would be accepted.

“I went out to dinner with some friends and I was quite tired after the race,” Ricciardo reflected.

“Then I said I’ll have one or two drinks with dinner and then I’ve got some things to sort out. But then a few more drinks and I was like, alright, let’s just relax for tonight and then I’ll worry about it tomorrow. I didn’t get crazy but I had a few drinks and I tried to take my mind off of things Sunday night.”

Ricciardo was still out in Budapest on account of Formula 1 holding a two-day test on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Red Bull enlisting him for test duties on the opening day.

“I tested Tuesday, so Wednesday I flew to America,” he said. “So when I landed, I was like, alright, yellow and black.

Ricciardo explained there was “not one bullet or anything like that” on the reasons for his move but “had some reservations” over Honda’s potential, though conceded pushing for a one-year Red Bull deal “doesn’t sound smart”; “It was going to be two or two, two here or two there.”

Ricciardo laughed and yelled “everything” when asked how much the financial factor affected his decision, stressing “don’t quote that” before seriously adding: “I can’t talk numbers or anything, but Red Bull did okay, like it really wasn’t … that wasn’t a big difference in the end. It was not a deciding factor. I had gone back and forth how many factors there were, but it [money] wasn’t that.”

Ricciardo added that the Max Verstappen factor did not weigh “as heavy as people think. Because I think it was talked about more than I saw.”

“I’ll give you a freebie,” he adds. “[Someone] said I had a really good structure at Red Bull. There was a lot of reasons but losing Simon Rennie, I knew he was not going to engineer me this year, if I stayed at Red Bull. I had a really good relationship with him, and there were some unknowns, not knowing who I was going to have. I was certainly comfortable with him. If I’d knew he stayed, I don’t know if that would have been a deciding factor, but when you have the Honda concern, and a few others, that was another little thing. There were lots of these little things which added up. I don’t want to say concerns but unknowns. Concerns is probably a bit disrespectful.”

While the Honda-powered Red Bull – at least in the hands of Verstappen – has gone on to take victories and podiums in 2019, Renault has regressed. Its ambition to close the gap to Formula 1’s lead trio has not been reached. Reliability shortfalls have meant getting cars to the finish is no guarantee. And the performance shortfall means points have not been a guarantee even if they get to the finish. Renault had 82 points at the mid-point of 2018. This year it has 39.

“I don’t want to say [the season is] in line [with expectations] as I had hoped for more,” Ricciardo accepts. “But I knew it was not going to happen like this (snaps fingers) so if I look at Canada qualifying, I actually said that exceeded some expectations in the first few races.

“But then some other races like Austria were lower than our expectations. So we’ve bounced around in between everything really.

“But at this halfway point we could say alright, we need to do better. if we want to be on target for podiums in 2020, we need to start making bigger steps for the second half of the year.

“So up until now I am somewhere in the middle with expectations, but I’d now expect the second half of the season to have some more regular top six finishes.”

Ricciardo has repeatedly stressed he has no regrets. After all, he was already winning races and taking podiums at Red Bull. The title, long-term, is the ambition. Renault, though, will certainly need to kick up a gear in the next 12 months.