The 2019 Formula 1 season starts with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne this weekend (March 15-17 2019). The Renault team starts the season with hopes of challenging the top 3 teams in 2019.
The French team has been on an upward trajectory ever since they re-entered the sport in 2016. The Renault team started in ninth position that year and improved to sixth position in 2017. Last season the team improved to fourth position to earn the tag of “best of the rest” behind Mercedes, Ferrari and the Red Bull Racing teams.
The Renault team has invested resources to improve its infrastructure and recruit new personnel to strengthen its technical team. The surprise signing of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for 2019 showed the team’s commitment to fight for titles.
Ricciardo has established himself as one of the top drivers on the grid since his move to Red Bull. The ever-smiling Australian will now partner Nico Hulkenberg at Renault. The German has established himself as a team leader at Renault.
Hulkenberg has the chance to benchmark himself against one of the best drivers in the business in Ricciardo. The intra-team battle between these two quality drivers is much anticipated in the new season.
#3 Daniel Ricciardo
150 GP Starts | 7 wins | 29 Podiums | 986 Points | 3 Pole Positions | 13 Fastest Laps
Daniel Ricciardo was part of the Red Bull junior programme and was placed by the team with backmarker team HRT in 2011. The Australian drove eleven races for that team in the first season.
The Toro Rosso Years
Ricciardo drove his first full season in Formula 1 for Toro Rosso. He partnered with Jean- Éric Vergne for two seasons there. In 2012, Ricciardio was outscored by Vergne (10 points to 16 points), but was impressive in qualification as he outqualified the Frenchman consistently (15-5) .
In 2013, the Australian beat Vergne as he outscored him (20 points to 13 points). Ricciardo again held a clear edge in qualification (15-4). Mark Webber retired at the end of 2013 from Red Bull. Ricciardo was chosen over Vergne to replace his fellow Australian Webber in the senior team for 2014.
The Red Bull Years
In 2014, Ricciardo had the formidable four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel as his Red Bull team-mate. The Australian beat Vettel to establish himself as one of the top drivers in the sport.
At the start of the new hybrid-engine era dominated by Mercedes, Ricciardo was the only non-Mercedes driver to win races that season. The Australian earned three wins, even as Vettel went winless. Ricciardo outqualified (11-8), out-raced (13-6), and outscored Vettel (238 points to 167 points).
The results and quality of performance of Ricciardo against a well-established star like Vettel was impressive. Vettel moved to Ferrari in 2015. Daniil Kvyat now became Ricciardo’s team-mate.
In 2015, Ricciardo was outscored by Kvyat 95 points to 92 points in a winless season for Red Bull. The next season, Kvyat was on a downward slide and was demoted to Toro Rosso after four races.
In 2016, Ricciardo partnered with Max Verstappen for most of the season. Over the next two seasons, the battle between these two talented drivers was riveting.
The Battle with Verstappen
Verstappen arrived at Red Bull with big expectations in 2016. For good measure he scripted a fairy-tale win at his first race at the Spanish GP. The Dutchman was tagged as a future world champion by the team management and had all the focus on him.
Ricciardo is a consummate professional and he ignored the hype and delivered on the track. The Australian beat Verstappen as he outqualified (11-6), out-raced (10-7) and outscored (220 points to 191 points) him in the 17 races at Red Bull that season. Ricciardo further enhanced his reputation as one of the best drivers at overtaking in the sport.
In 2017, Ricciardo again beat Verstappen as he outscored him 200 points to 168 points.
In 2018, Ricciardo had a great start to the season as he won two of the first six races. Verstappen, in contrast, made an error-filled start to the season. The battle lines between the two team-mates was clearly drawn as they dueled all race and crashed into each other at the Azerbaijan GP.
As Verstappen started turning his season around, Ricciardo was beset by reliability issues. The Australian suffered six DNFs in the last 13 races. Verstappen beat Ricciardo by 249 points to 170 points.
The disappointing second-half of the season set the stage for Ricciardo signing with Renault and departing from the Red Bull team. Ricciardo finished his Red Bull career with 3 pole positions and 29 podiums which included 7 wins.
#27 Nico Hulkenberg
156 GP Starts | 474 Points | 1 Pole Position | 2 Fastest Laps
Nico Hulkenberg has become “the nearly man” of Formula 1 in recent seasons. The German, popularly known as “the Hulk”, has been considered for top drives, but has not been able to seal the deal.
The Williams Years
In 2010, Hulkenberg debuted in F1 with the Williams team and a 14th place finish in the drivers’ championship was the end result. The German was outscored by his team-mate Rubens Barrichello 47 points to 22 points. The German scored an unexpected pole position in the rain at the Brazilian GP that season.
The Force India and Sauber Years
In 2011, the German moved to Force India and sat out the season. Hulkenberg spent four of the next five seasons at Force India (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016). In 2013, a short sojourn to Sauber in the hopes of better prospects had dashed his hopes.
In 2012, Hulkenberg showed flashes of brilliance in qualification. Hulkenberg beat his team-mate Paul Di Resta 63 points to 46 points.
In 2013, Hulkenberg beat his Sauber team-mate Esteban Gutiérrez 51 points to 6 points. He finished in tenth position in the drivers’ championship that season.
Hulkenberg returned to Force India for the next three seasons. The German was in a tough battle with Sergio Pérez in that time. After Hulkenberg beat Pérez in 2014, he lost the team-mate battle over the next two seasons.
The Renault Years
In 2016, Renault had returned to the sport by buying back the Lotus F1 team (formerly owned by the French manufacturer until 2010). In 2017, Hulkenberg moved to the Renault works team. Hulkenberg has been the team leader at the French team.
In 2017, Hulkenberg had Jolyon Palmer as his team-mate for the first 16 races and he outscored him 34 points to 6 points. Carlos Sainz joined the Renault team for the last four races. Hulkenberg outscored him 9 points to 6 points.
In 2018, Hulkenberg beat Carlos Sainz as he outscored him 69 points to 53 points. The German finished in seventh position in the drivers’ championship. Hulkenberg finished behind the six drivers of the top 3 teams to earn the tag of “the best of the rest”.
Ricciardo vs Hulkenberg in 2019
Hulkenberg has the distinction of winning the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 2015. But a podium has eluded him in Formula 1. The affable German holds the unenviable record of having the most starts without being on the podium even once in Grand Prix races (156 starts so far).
In 2019, a proven race winner Daniel Ricciardo joins the Renault team. Ricciardo has been the “King of Opportunism” winning a majority of his races coming from the back. He will present Hulkenberg with the biggest challenge any team-mate has ever posed in his career so far.
Ricciardo has the better record by far with his seven wins and twenty-nine podiums. The Australian has two third-place finishes in the drivers’ championship in his career (2014, 2016). But he has had the advantage of driving a race winning car at Red Bull.
In equal machinery at Renault in 2019, a Hulkenberg vs Ricciardo battle will be one to savour. In a Renault team on the upswing, Hulkenberg will have the chance to benchmark himself against one of the best drivers in the business in Ricciardo.
Both drivers will hope they can fight for podiums and wins with the French team over the next two seasons. Hulkenberg has been the unchallenged team leader at Renault. The arrival of a high profile driver like Ricciardo will spell an end to that in 2019. But the German will hope to fight with the Australian on equal terms over the entire season.