‘Stone the crows’: Barry Oliver takes a look at Ricciardo’s F1 move

FUTURE PLANS: Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull and heading to Renault for the next two years. No doubt Ricciardo is considering his chances at a world championship. Picture: AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh
FUTURE PLANS: Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull and heading to Renault for the next two years. No doubt Ricciardo is considering his chances at a world championship. Picture: AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh

Stone the crows. You could have knocked me over with a feather when word came through that Daniel Ricciardo would leave the Red Bull team at the end of the year to join the works Renault team for the next two years.

I never saw that coming and neither did all the pundits who claim to be close to the action.

The speculation regarding his future had been going on for what seemed forever, and with Mercedes Benz recently confirming their drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for 2019, that door was slammed shut.

Ferrari was a possibility, or so everyone thought, but it now seems it will come down to keeping Kimi Raikkonen or replacing him with Alfa Romeo Sauber driver Pierre Leclerc.

Leclerc is definitely not a shoo-in if Raikkonen is dumped or leaves as there are now others in the frame as a result of Ricciardo’s decision.

I don’t believe Ferrari was ever an option for Ricciardo while his former team mate Sebastien Vettel was the number one driver there, as I’m sure he would have exercised his power of veto.

So with that in mind it seemed to be a given that the Australian really had no option but to stay put on the basis that Red Bull is currently the third-best performed team in the competition behind Mercedes Benz and Ferrari.

So what happened that lit the fuse to this bombshell announcement?

... Ricciardo began to think beyond 2018 and whether Red Bull would be able to provide him with the ... support to achieve his goal of becoming world champion.

Let’s go back to October last year when Red Bull announced that Max Verstappen had agreed to an extension to his contract through to the end of 2020 on what is believed to be a huge increase on his reported 2017 $3 million salary.

At that point it now transpires that Ricciardo began to think beyond 2018 and whether Red Bull would be able to provide him with the car and more importantly, the support to achieve his goal of becoming world champion.

Clearly Red Bull boss Christian Horner and motorsport advisor Helmet Marko had signalled their intentions to focus on the Dutchman’s future.

Ricciardo would be number two and would most likely finish up in the same unhappy environment as his predecessor Mark Webber.

I firmly believe that Horner and Marko were convinced Ricciardo would have no choice but to stay and that is borne out by Horner admitting this week that he thought Ricciardo was joking when he got the phone call to say “I’m leaving”.

Ricciardo has said on numerous occasions that it’s not about the money as much as the opportunity to fight for the championship, and with the underperforming Honda engine in the Red Bull cars next year it was obviously a consideration in his decision.

Yes Renault has had engine issues since re-joining the championship, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel and Ricciardo will have the full backing of a major manufacturer in a works team.

His team mate in 2019 will be 30-year-old German Nico Hulkenberg who has contested 147 F1 races and has been a member of the Renault team since the beginning of 2017.

The next question is who will replace Ricciardo at Red Bull and where will Carlos Sainz Jnr go after losing his drive at Renault?

One driver that could fill the seat is 22-year-old Pierre Gasly who currently drives for the Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso.

He has only contested 17 GP races in his career but his performances this year have been very impressive and the 2016 GP2 champion is considered a future world champion.

And just to confuse the issue even more was the news that a consortium, including Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, has bought the Force India team which went into administration just before the recent Hungarian GP.  Stay with me.

Stroll is the father of Lance Stroll, who currently races for the beleaguered Williams team with daddy forking out a reputed $25 million per year for the drive.

Logic suggests it would seem more than likely Stroll junior will move to Force India next year and replace either Sergio Perez or Esteban Ocon.

And there is more.

At the time of writing the future of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, at the once-dominant McLaren team, is cause for much speculation and so is the future of team mate Stoffel Vandorne.  

Hang on I haven’t finished yet.

New Zealander Brendon Hartley has not lived up to expectations at Toro Rosso and is unlikely to get a seat next year and the American Haas team may be considering replacing Romain Grosjean whose time with the team has been very up and down.

It’s all too much.  I need a Bex and a good lie down.