Daniel Ricciardo was one of the surprise top performers of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, gaining fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship in a Renault DP World F1 Team car that had underperformed in recent years.
Ricciardo took the plunge to join the French team after taking the career changing decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing at the end of the 2018 season. His 2018 hadn’t gone well with the team and his love affair finished with a season marred by eight retirements.
Speaking after his retirement after the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Ricciardo stated “This sucks and it is at a point where I feel why should I even come on a Sunday.“There hasn’t been a clean weekend for so long due to many different reasons and it’s breaking my heart. Deflated comes to mind but this feels deeper than that.”
It was clear that Ricciardo’s fun side had diminished in the Red Bull car and was ready for a new challenge.
2019 with Renault
Ricciardo’s first year with Renault was a complete contrast to his previous years with Red Bull. Instead of competing for podiums, he was down the back-end grid competing for points. It was the first year since the 2013 season that the Australian driver went all season without obtaining a podium.
His season didn’t get off a great start when he retired from his home race, the Australian Grand Prix. His bad luck continued throughout the season when he failed to score points at thirteen of the twenty-one races, with four of those results being in retirements.
Probably Ricciardo’s unfavoured moment with Renault is his and team-mate Nico Hülkenberg’s disqualification from the Japanese Grand Prix. The duo had finished sixth and tenth respectively, but those points were ripped away after a protest was lodged by BWT Racing Point Formula One Team for the team having a ‘pre-set, automated brake bias system’. This was deemed to be a breach of F1’s Sporting and Technical Regulations and the FIA International Sporting Code.
His best finish of the year came at the Italian Grand Prix, he finished the race in fourth place after being strong all weekend, especially with a qualifying position of fifth.
Ricciardo finished the year down in ninth in the Drivers’ Championship, his lowest finish since 2013, with Renault in fifth.
Speaking to Crash.net at the end of 2019, Ricciardo reflected on what he believes was a very underwhelming season for him: “Relatively speaking not great, I don’t see myself as the ninth-best driver on the grid. I don’t look into it too much because I believe I am better. Do I want to be ninth for the next few years and have the excuse that I am better than ninth, but it is what it is? No. I don’t like seeing myself in ninth.”
2020 with Renault
The 2020 season started off in a similar fashion to the 2019 season with a retirement. However, looking ahead to what he achieved throughout the season, that one lone retirement from himself will be the least of his worries.
Out of the seventeen races, Ricciardo only failed to score points in three of the races, a contrast to the weak results of the previous years.
Throughout the year, Ricciardo and Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul had an ongoing bet that if Ricciardo was able to get his car on the podium, Abiteboul will get a tattoo to commemorate the achievement. Ricciardo came close one three occasions, gaining fourth place at the British, Belgian and Tuscan Grand Prix. After knocking on the door for so long, his time finally came with a third-place finish at the Eifel Grand Prix, becoming the first Renault driver on the podium since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. It was also Ricciardo’s first podium since his win at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix.
He didn’t finish there and carried on pushing for more trophies and found himself on the podium again at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, again with a third-place finish. Ricciardo finished the year in fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship with 119 points, his highest finish since 2017. He also gained fastest lap points at the Belgian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
On top of his strong performance, Ricciardo was voted in third place by his peers in the Formula 1 official polls.
As Ricciardo bows out from his two years at Renault, Abiteboul feels like it’s partly his fault that the team could not retain the driver.
Speaking to L’Equipe, Abiteboul said: “It blew me away to hear him announce his departure because this winter, I felt the car had potential. The pandemic stopped everything, but I blame myself for not having been able to show Daniel what was the true potential of our project.”
Switch to McLaren
Ricciardo decided to leave Renault in favour of teaming up with Lando Norris at McLaren F1 Team in 2021 before the 2020 season had got underway. It was announced in May 2020 that McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. would be joining the big red in Scuderia Ferrari, in replacement of Sebastian Vettel, leaving a vacant seat at the papaya team.
McLaren have been going from strength to strength in recent years, finishing fourth in the Constructors Championship in 2019 with their first podium since 2014 to boot as well.
They went one further in 2020, finishing third and walking away with two podiums and a three fastest lap points.
From the 2021 season, McLaren will be changing engine manufacturer from Renault to Mercedes, surely something Ricciardo took into consideration when making his switch.
So, with both McLaren and Renault on the charge in 2020, will he have made the right decision? Only time will tell come the 2021 season opener at the Australian Grand Prix in March.