Dan’s F1 gamble

Ricciardo abandons his seat at one of F1’s top teams and bets on an outlier. Will his career survive?

RYAN LEWIS

Silent Arrow

Mercedes-Benz lifted the silk off the EQ Silver Arrow Concept at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance late last month. The electric, single-seat design study is a futuristic homage to the record-breaking W125 high-speed car of 1937. Penned by Merc’s chief designer Gorden Wagener, the 5.3m-long EV outputs 550kW with an 80kWh battery for a range of 400km. A panoramic screen projects 3D images for the driver, and on-board AI enables virtual races against historic Silver Arrows cars. Oh, and those rear tyres are a massive 26-inches.

EXPECT a queue for yellow merchandise at Albert Park next year following the shock decision by Australian F1 superstar Daniel Ricciardo to leave Red Bull Racing and join the Renault Sport F1 outfit in 2019. But his new team admits it could be 2020 at the earliest before he’s winning races again.

“I feel he sees Max growing in speed and strength and he doesn’t want to play a support role, for want of better words.” – Christian Horner

The announcement came as a genuine surprise, with Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner and fellow team driver Max Verstappen telling media outlets in the weeks prior that Ricciardo staying on was a sure thing. Ricciardo himself gave the same impression.

Instead the Honey Badger has signed a two-year deal with the French team that will see him replace Carlos Sainz through to the end of 2020, at which time he will be back on the driver market ahead of the sport’s major regulation revamp in 2021.

“[This is] by far the toughest decision I’ve made in my racing career,” Ricciardo admits. “It’s been a 10 year journey with Red Bull … and I’ll never forget that ride. I felt it was a time now where it was good for me to move on and have a fresh start somewhere else. I think it will be healthy for me.”

Red Bull’s performance is a major unknown going forward as the team moves from Renault engines to Honda’s chronically unreliable power units next season. Of some comfort to Ricciardo is the fact the works Renault team has not taken a single grid penalty for reliability issues so far this season. Renault is also a team where seven-time grand prix winner Ricciardo can make a home as the team’s clear number one driver, with Nico Hulkenberg for company.

“It’s a great shame that he’s chosen to leave,” Horner tells. “He’s chosen the Renault team that he feels are in ascendency, obviously he knows the Renault product very well from his time spent with us, and I can’t help but feel that he wants to be a leading role in a smaller environment.

“Competition between he and Max is intense. Max is growing stronger and stronger and I think that Daniel has just decided that the timing is right for him to check out and try something else.”

Rumours from within the paddock suggest Red Bull was moving to give Verstappen priority over Dan, something Horner denies. He says status wasn’t an issue, and the team did everything it could to retain Ricciardo.

“It’s been a bit like trying to convince a girl to go out with you who’s being pretty reticent,” Horner muses. “We’ve bent over backwards to make it happen, but if someone’s heart’s not really in it “We gave Daniel everything that he wanted and asked for, and it still wasn’t enough in his mind. It might be an inspired choice; it might be one that he regrets.”

Ricciardo made it clear early in the season he was looking to sign with a team he could win a championship with. That seemed to mean Mercedes or Ferrari, both of which were an outside chance of taking him on, but those opportunities haven’t materialised.

Rather than stay put at Red Bull, Ricciardo has taken a chance on a team fighting to return to frontrunning form and that is spending big money to do so, but Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul says he has not overpromised the Aussie.

“We sold him the goal of fighting for championships in 2021, and to start winning, I hope, in 2020, but not before,” Abiteboul tells French newspaper Auto Hebdo.

“He has also been sold a role that goes beyond that of a simple pilot, but that of someone who participates in building a team.”

Ricciardo says, “I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level.

But I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won.”

Dan’s move has rattled the grid. The ousted Carlos Sainz has since signed with McLaren in the wake of Fernando Alonso’s decision to not race in F1 next year, Pierre Gasly has been named as Ricciardo’s replacement at Red Bull, and there are more changes to come before the 2019 season gets underway. In the meantime, it might be worth opening a new savings account for the inevitable Renault Megane RS Daniel Ricciardo Special Edition.

RYAN LEWIS

RICCIARDO’S 2019 OPTIONS

Only Vettel is locked in for 2019. Raikkonen is out of contract and looking unlikely to stay, his replacement unknown at this point. Ricciardo was a rumoured candidate, but it’s believed Vettel has a right to veto, which the German denies. Ferrari junior and current Sauber driver Charles LeClerc is shaping up as favourite for the seat, with Raikkonen’s fate to be determined.

Both Hamilton and Bottas were out of contract at the end of 2018, but have since been retained. Hamilton’s re-signing was never really in question, but the team’s commitment to Bottas was unknown. However, the established pecking order seems to work for Silver Arrows management. Signing a driver like Ricciardo could potentially upset your volatile world champion.

Staying put to see how the works arrangement with Honda pans out has risks. It might succeed, but recent history says performance and reliability questions are justified. Toro Rosso has suffered more than 100 grid place penalties due to Honda-supplied parts in 12 races so far this season. No clear driver hierarchy with Max adds mental strain.

Assuming number one driver status takes away some mind games, though it’s interesting to note Hulkenberg has never been outperformed by a teammate. Renault’s current engines are a known quantity in terms of performance and driveability, and a works outfit is generally the favourable option. Two-year deal puts Ricciardo back in talks with other teams for 2021, when F1 changes its engine regulations and expiring contracts open up seats at Mercedes, Ferrari, and even back at Red Bull.

Old dog, new kicks

Dutch tyre manufacturer Vredestein is releasing new treads in rare sizes suited to modern classic’ cars of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Dubbed the Sprint+, the initial specification caters for owners of the Audi Ur-Quattro in an oddball 215/50R15 size. The Sprint+ retains a retro look but is made using contemporary production methods and technology. The company says it will have about ten sizes for various cars by mid-2019. Former F1 driver and Le Mans-winner Jochen Mass assisted with development.