Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull. This is proper bombshell stuff, the sort of thing that can really only happen in Formula 1.
It’s a bombshell because as late as last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, word was he was staying put. After Hamilton re-signed at Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen’s oft-predicted ousting never happened, his options were gone.
Or so we thought.
Looking back at the Hungarian Grand Prix, a couple of fascinating things happened. They’re fascinating because we should have sniffed something was up.
Max Verstappen’s Renault V6 popped and both he and Horner raged about it publicly. Neither of them care particularly, Red Bull is off to Honda next year. Cyril Abiteboul responded to Horner’s particularly pointed comments carefully and icily.
Cyril knew what was about to happen. Probably nearly killed him to keep the secret that he was just about to steal Ricciardo out from under their noses.
You’re going to read a lot about about Ricciardo’s time at Red Bull, but just check out the tantrum behind Red Bull’s press release confirming his departure:
Having joined the Red Bull family in 2008 as a member of the Red Bull Junior Team, with whom he won numerous junior titles, Daniel made his F1 debut in 2011 at the British Grand Prix. After two seasons with Scuderia Toro Rosso, Daniel joined us in 2014 and to date has brought the team seven victories, 29 podium finishes, two pole positions and 904 championship points.
Wow. Daniel. After all we’ve done for you.
Commenting on Daniel’s decision, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said: “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, the highlights of course being the seven wins and the 29 podiums he has achieved so far with us.
Again. Danny. Dude. After all we’ve done for you.
“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.”
Yeah, well, if there’s a choice between a Danny win and a Verstappen win for the rest of the season, I think we all know what’s going to happen. Which in a way is fair. He’s leaving. But he’s leaving for a reason.
Ricciardo has not had the relationship with this team that matches his talent and temperament. He saw off multiple world champion Sebastian Vettel. He has outgunned Max Verstappen over the time and has lost out to him more than once through strategy moves.
Verstappen’s first win was pure theft. Then the team managed to shaft him at the very next race in Monaco. It was Webber and Vettel all over again. Daniel isn’t an idiot and knows where Marko and Horner see the future of Red Bull. He saw what happened to Webber when the Bright Young Thing arrived.
The way the team failed to manage Verstappen’s wild on-track behaviour early in the season, particularly at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, is telling. Verstappen was over the mark. If he had been fighting any other car on the track, you’d call it good hard racing. But Ricciardo was faster, leaving racing room, trying to avoid an incident. But also not letting Verstappen get away with it.
Ricciardo has always been a team player and that just doesn’t work at Red Bull if you want to win. No doubt Verstappen will be pleased, he knows Ricciardo’s likely replacement is to be Carlos Sainz. I’m not sure Sainz will be keen to renew the working relationship. I know I wouldn’t want to join a team with Verstappen in the other garage.
Danny’s rocked the boat. Ocon’s mooted move to Renault is gone, leaving a scramble for Sainz to find a seat that isn’t Red Bull while LeClerc and Gasly stake their claim for a seat.
Either way, I think a Ricciardo-Renault deal is awesome for everyone. The team is on the way up with a massive investment program underway. The team is getting faster and better and will welcome the proven winner with a proper ticker-tape parade.
Ricciardo is no fool. I think he’s made the right choice.