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Ricciardo back at Red Bull: Competitors' grass was not greener

Ricciardo back at Red Bull: Competitors' grass was not greener

23 November - 15:02 Last update: 15:13

Daniel Ricciardo is back at Red Bull Racing. After four seasons, it appears the grass did not prove greener at other racing teams and the Australian (with a well-filled bank account) is returning to where he enjoyed his greatest successes. Here's a look back at the past four years away from home.

Departure from Red Bull

In 2018, Ricciardo announced the end of his partnership with Red Bull Racing. After making his debut for HRT at Toro Rosso in 2011, Ricciardo was given the chance to mature in 2012 and 2013, before being deemed good enough to replace compatriot Mark Webber at the first team in 2014. That proved to be a success, as Ricciardo beat his teammate Sebastian Vettel in his first year with the team.

In the years that followed, Ricciardo grew into one of the big names in the sport and in 2016 and 2017 he even managed to contain Max Verstappen. That continued to deteriorate throughout 2018 and when the team blamed both drivers for the crash in Azerbaijan, Ricciardo was fed up. He thought the team was more on Verstappen's side and decided to seek refuge elsewhere.

The move to Renault

In 2019, he came into action for Renault. In itself a logical choice. Ferrari and Mercedes were never seriously in the market for Ricciardo and so Ricciardo went to the fourth team on the grid. As a factory team, Renault also has an edge and Cyril Abitboul did everything he could (financially) to bring in Ricciardo as a figurehead.

It worked, as Ricciardo took the plunge and became Renault's figurehead in 2019. Sport wise, Ricciardo was still ahead, as he beat Nico Hulkenberg in year one already in the qualifying duel (14-7) with an average difference of 0.078s. Ricciardo also outclassed his teammate in points: 54 to 37 points.

Yet it was not quite the year Ricciardo was hoping for, as Renault dropped to fifth place in the standings as a team. McLaren, which Ricciardo had also wanted, as a Renault customer, even finished above the French racing stable in fourth place. Whereas McLaren had honestly admitted that it could not be competitive anytime soon, Renault had put a spanner in the works for Ricciardo by saying it wanted to compete for the top three. Ricciardo, therefore, preferred Renault to McLaren in 2019.

As a result, Ricciardo did not hesitate for a moment when a spot became available at McLaren for 2021 after all. Even before a metre had been driven in 2020, Ricciardo signed a contract with the rival. At Renault, they were shocked. A lot had been invested in the driver who now decided after just one year that enough was enough.

Despite the early announced departure, 2020 was not a bad year sportingly for Ricciardo. Hulkenberg had been replaced by Esteban Ocon and with the Frenchman, Ricciardo had an even easier time. The qualifying duel was won 15-2 with an average difference of 0.261s. The difference was also immense in points: 119 to 62.

With two podium finishes, there were also highlights with Renault that Ricciardo will never forget. The question is therefore whether the switch was wise. At Renault, he was the man and although 2020 also finished fifth among constructors, the potential of a factory team was still there.

Norris proves a size too big

Ahead of 2021, the focus was mainly on Daniel Ricciardo. Even questions to Lando Norris were about his new teammate. With seven wins behind his name and having dominated at Renault, it was therefore assumed that Ricciardo would win over Norris. However, the Australian came back from a cold start.

Sportingly, Ricciardo improved, as McLaren again finished one place above Renault in 2021. With the new Mercedes engine, Ricciardo even won a race in Italy. A highlight in a season full of disappointments. Indeed, at McLaren in 2021, Ricciardo just could not manage to beat his teammate. He lost the qualifying duel 5-15 with an average difference of 0.192s. Norris also scored 45 points more than his more experienced teammate.

Ricciardo and his team pointed to the car that Norris would know better and also like better as the reason Ricciardo performed less. However, 2022 proved that it was not a down year. Indeed, last season Norris reaffirmed that he was better over a full season at McLaren, despite the cars being completely new with the new regulations. Indeed, the difference only widened. The qualifying duel was now won 20-2 by the young Briton, with an average difference of more than three tenths. Ricciardo's 37 points were also very limited compared to Norris' 122.

However, despite a contract through 2023, Ricciardo was without a seat for 2023. Indeed, McLaren had decided to buy out the Australian's contract. He simply cost too much money for what he was performing. He will be replaced by Oscar Piastri in 2023. Another Australian who McLaren managed to pluck away from Alpine.

Back in the Red Bull family

Ricciardo did not fancy a seat at Haas and is choosing a different route. Namely, he thinks he is good enough for race victories and therefore wants to stay with the top teams. Even if, according to Christian Horner, there is no prospect of a race seat, his presence will create pressure on Sergio Perez's second seat. If the Mexican does not perform then Ricciardo will be looked at immediately. At Red Bull, they will realise this too.

With Verstappen, Perez and Ricciardo, Red Bull has an extremely strong line-up in 2023 and the choice of Ricciardo is also quite understandable. The 33-year-old driver still seemed to be in place at Renault, but his move to McLaren in particular did his career little good. Ricciardo's track experience will benefit his simulation and testing work for the team, though.

For Ricciardo, of course, it is a step backwards. He left Red Bull at the end of 2018 because he no longer felt like the man within the team. Now he returns four years later and settles for a role as third driver. The tide can turn quickly in F1, so who knows, maybe just like that, Ricciardo's favour too. Red Bull has made crazier decisions in the past than substituting a regular driver for the reserve driver.

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