Daniel Ricciardo will race for the Renault Sport F1 Team in 2019, defying widespread opinion that he would re-sign with Red Bull Racing.
The Australian’s departure from Red Bull Racing, for whom he has raced since 2014, was confirmed by the Milton Keynes squad on Friday and then followed by the Renault team’s announcement.
Renault confirmed that Ricciardo will be teammate to Nico Hülkenberg, meaning that Carlos Sainz Jr – who was loaned to Renault by Red Bull – will leave the Enstone squad.
“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” Ricciardo said. “But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge.
“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. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track.”
“Daniel’s signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport. It is also a recognition of the work accomplished over the past two and a half seasons,” Renault’s F1 team principal Cyril Abiteboul added.
“Daniel’s undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible. We welcome him to our growing team in 2019 with a great deal of pride, but also humility.”
His move to Renault – currently placed a distant fourth in the Constructors’ Championship standings behind Red Bull Racing – is a major surprise.
Until now, Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing had given every indication that a contract extension was a mere formality, while Renault had been in active negotiations with Sainz Jr to extend his stay as well as with Mercedes to have Esteban Ocon loaned to them from Force India.
Ricciardo clearly sees a factory supported drive at Renault as a better long-term option than staying at Red Bull Racing, which will switch to Honda engines next year.
The team’s relationship with its existing engine partner has completely broken down; Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen and team boss Christian Horner savaged Renault after the Dutch driver’s early retirement from last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
Horner was magnanimous in losing a driver who has delivered seven Grand Prix victories and 29 podiums to-date: “We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and we wish him all the best in his future. We would like to thank him for his dedication and the role he has played since joining the Team in 2014.
“We will now continue to evaluate the numerous options available to us before deciding on which driver partners Max Verstappen for the 2019 season. In the meantime, there are still nine races left in 2018 and we are fully focused on maximising every opportunity for Max and Daniel for the remainder of the season.”
With a number of race seats still open next year, the focus on the driver market will shift to Red Bull Racing and the potential identity of Ricciardo’s replacement. Sainz Jr. and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly are the most logical candidates.
With Ocon’s path to Renault now blocked, the Frenchman and Mercedes will have to wait and see what happens to Force India, which entered administration and is currently trying to find a buyer. Mercedes’ other contracted junior driver, Formula 2 Championship leader George Russell, will also have his future up in the air over the next few weeks.
Images via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
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