2020: A make-or-break season for Daniel Ricciardo?

09-02-2020 13:20
by Nicolás Quarles van Ufford
F1 News
2020: A make-or-break season for Daniel Ricciardo?

After his risky decision to Renault ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 season, Daniel Ricciardo has entered a crucial phase following a forgettable year at the French team. Will he drive his way back to the top with Renault or will he regress into another year of mediocrity, decreasing his chances of ever getting another chance at a top team? 

Reason for leaving Red Bull Racing

As he announced his departure from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing during the summer break of 2018, Ricciardo argued he'd have more of a chance of becoming a champion one day by joining a works team. Besides, he said he looked forward to pushing Renault to new heights, as Fernando Alonso had done at the start of the century.

His decision was met with a wave of criticism, however, as it was argued the Aussie walked away from the fight with upcoming star Max Verstappen, choosing a big contract at a different team instead. Currently, Red Bull have an operating budget almost twice the size of Renault's, but the French team has repeatedly stated its ambition to ramp up their operation as the years go on, with 2021 potentially being a big stepping stone. It is the final year of their five-year plan, after all, which they made back in 2016 when they rejoined the grid as a works team.

Esteban Ocon

When Ricciardo moved to Renault, he teamed up with Nico Hulkenberg. While the German is no Verstappen, he is still a supremely talented driver with a lot of F1 experience as he gave the 30-year-old a good run for his money. Ricciardo did emerge victorious in the 'battle' between the two, however, after some initial teething problems at the start of the season.

In 2020, Ricciardo will share the garage with a new driver in Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman has been away from F1 for a year and will be very eager to impress upon his return. Although the former F3 champion is one of the brightest talents in F1, Ricciardo will still be expected to beat him in 2020. If he does so, he won't be commended for it, but if he fails, people will definitely start doubting the seven-time Grand Prix winner's ability.

He could be facing a similar situation like Sebastian Vettel's at Ferrari last year; starting the year as the big name who will do the heavy lifting and ending the season with the public thinking he is no longer what he used to be.

Will Ferrari still be interested?

For Ricciardo, the arrival of Ocon has another potential pitfall. If he indeed loses out to the Frenchman in 2020, he won't just be risking his status as the number one driver within the team, but it could turn off other teams as well from signing him. There have been rumours of the Aussie replacing Vettel at Ferrari in 2021, but why would the Italian team sign him up if he can't even beat his own teammate at Renault?

The options won't get much better than that for Ricciardo. Red Bull Racing will not take him back - this has been ruled out by Helmut Marko - and Mercedes have shown no interest thus far. So, 2020 really is a make-or-break season for Daniel Ricciardo, the most likeable driver on the F1 grid. If he does exceptionally well he could earn himself a seat at Ferrari, but if he doesn't perform up to par, it could be the end of his title ambitions. Which one will it be?

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