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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Daniel Ricciardo has nothing to lose by leaving Red Bull for Renault

It is a risky move by the Australian but if it pays off he will put his negotiating position for further down the line in his career

Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull for Renault. Reuters 
Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull for Renault. Reuters 

There was a rumour going around social media on Friday that so convinced had Red Bull Racing been that Daniel Ricciardo was going to sign a new deal that a video had already been filmed to be uploaded on instagram as soon had the contract had been inked.

Well, if that was the case then that is some raw footage that will not be seeing the public's view.

Ricciardo shocked Red Bull, and Formula One as a whole, when it was announced that he would be departing the Austrian team for Renault for 2019.

On paper it is a bizarre move. Leaving the third quickest team on the grid, who are capable of winning races as they have done three times this year, for a marque who are at best the fourth fastest and have not won a grand prix in almost 10 years.

To put it into context, the Australian has won twice this year in China and Monaco and take one pole position.

Renault's best result of 2018 is fifth, achieved by Carlos Sainz in Azerbaijan and Nico Hulkenberg in Germany, and their average qualifying deficit to pole throughout the year has been between 1.5 to 2 seconds.

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So, Ricciardo is not going to Renault for the chance of victories, just yet at least. Yes, they are improving and already with 82 points this season have more then they scored in the whole of 2017.

But they are not going to find 1.5 seconds a lap worth of performance over the winter to put them in contention with Mercedes-GP, Ferrari and Red Bull when he makes his debut for them in Australia in March 2019.

Only Ricciardo knows at this stage what has pushed him to commit to Renault and partner Hulkenberg. Things are unlikely to become any clearer until his next public media appearance, which will be at the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of the month.

It is unusual for a top driver to make what appears to be a step down. It does happen.

Michael Schumacher quit Benetton after winning his second title in 1995 for Ferrari, who had not won a drivers' title for 16 years prior to that.

The 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve left the established Williams for new team British American Racing in 1999. Then of course there was Lewis Hamilton departing McLaren, with who he had won the 2008 title, at the end of 2012 for Mercedes.

The key thing those three drivers had in their favour was they were all already world champions, something Ricciardo is not.

Ricciardo has seven wins to his name, but if he ended his career still on that tally, and without a title, he would be disappointed, given his raw talent.

What this screams of is Ricciardo believing he has nothing to lose, and trying to shake himself out of a comfort zone.

He has been with Red Bull since being a teenager, progressing through the junior formula and to F1 with them, and he has raced for the team since 2014.

But, he has been put in the shade by Max Verstappen, his younger teammate.

As the Dutchman grows more experienced, and cuts out the mistakes, he has increasingly put Ricciardo in the shade in terms of raw speed, and he has out-qualified him in the past six races.

A change of scenery has the potential to revitalise Ricciardo on that score, though Hulkenberg is a potentially tough teammate in his own right.

But, with Red Bull moving to Honda engines for 2019, in Ricciardo's mind that the Austrian team are unlikely to win races with any degree of regularity, unless the Japanese power unit manufacturer can make a spectacular leap forward in performance, which until now they have appeared to be incapable of doing.

If Renault can continue to develop and Ricciardo can inspire further progress, such as getting them on the podium for the first time since 2010, it would boost his reputation.

It is a two-year deal so if Renault are still fourth or fifth fastest at the end of 2020 there is always the option of trying to find a drive elsewhere.

Two good seasons at Renault could put him in a stronger negotiating position with top teams then staying at Red Bull and continuing to lose out more often than not to Verstappen.

Only time will tell if this is an inspirational or catastrophic move for Ricciardo.

But just as with his willingness to dive in for a late-braking attempt on track, he certainly cannot be accused of sitting around and waiting for his career to evolve.