SEVEN-TIME Formula 1 grand prix winner Daniel Ricciardo has been told by his new Renault Sport F1 boss that he should not expect to win races with the team until 2020 at the earliest, and that a championship won’t be on the cards until at least 2021 – that’s if the Aussie stays on.
“We sold him the goal of fighting for championships [driver and constructor] in 2021, and to start winning, I hope, in 2020, but not before,” Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul told French newspaper Auto Hebdo.
Ricciardo made a shock decision at the start of the European summer break to leave Red Bull Racing and take up a two-year deal with the French outfit starting next year. He ousts Spanish driver Carlos Sainz (who has since gone to McLaren) and picks up Nico Hulkenberg as his teammate.
Renault has been on a warpath to re-establish itself as a race-winning force in F1 since it bought out Lotus F1 and returned as a works outfit in 2016. The signing of a personality like Ricciardo appears to be a key part of the ongoing ascendancy plan.
“[Ricciardo] has also been sold a role that goes beyond that of a simple pilot, but that of someone who participates in building a team,” said Abiteboul.
“His commitment to us proves our willingness to accelerate the recovery process. It’s also recognition of the work we’ve done over the last two and a half years. Daniel’s talent and charisma are a great bonus for us. We have to reciprocate that confidence by giving him the best possible car.”
The deal will put Dan back on the driver market for 2021, coinciding with a major revamp of the sport’s technical regulations that could shuffle the current pecking order of teams. Other expiring driver contracts at that time will potentially open up seats at Ferrari, Mercedes and even back at Red Bull, or Dan may choose to re-sign with Renault if the year ahead looks promising.
Renault has employed hundreds of additional staff and ramped up its rate of development since its return; from 475 people at the end of 2015 to 640 earlier this year, with a target of 700 by 2019. Reliability of its own race cars has been good so far this season, and far better than that of engine supplier Honda, who will be providing power units to Red Bull and Toro Rosso next season.
"Our choice is to become a top team,” Abiteboul told ESPN earlier this year. “To become a top team we need to be integrated, but in order to be integrated it takes a bit of time.”
Renault’s last victory at a Formula 1 race was the Japanese Grand Prix in 2008. Its two constructor championships were won more than a decade ago (2005 and 2006) when Fernando Alonso was driving for the team. The desire to be back on top appears strong, and the team’s progression has been impressive, so much so Williams F1 deputy principal Claire Williams described it as “phenomenal”.
Abiteboul says, “Last year we managed to out-develop all teams, including the top teams. We started two seconds off the pace from the top teams and we finished the season one second away from the top teams.”
As it stands Renault sits a distant fourth in the constructor championship behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG.
“If we also manage to out-develop like we did last year, the target that we have set ourselves of finishing half a second away from them by the end of the year is an achievable one.”
In January Renault announced the controversial appointment of Marcin Budkowski to oversee its Enstone factory. Budkowski was formerly head of the FIA’s technical department, and had his start at Renault delayed by months due to objections from teams fearing he would divulge their competitive secrets. He has since begun work in the new role.
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