Daniel Ricciardo will end his five-year association with Red Bull Racing at the end of the season to make a shock switch to the Renault Formula One team.
The Australian was linked to a Ferrari move earlier in the year but talks between the two went cold early in the European season, and both Red Bull Racing and Ricciardo heavily hinted that a contract extension would be announced before the midseason break.
But Red Bull Racing delivered the sport its biggest surprise of the year when it announced Ricciardo would be leaving the team at the end of the year.
“We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and we wish him all the best in his future,” team principal Christian Horner said. “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.”
Ricciardo’s decision will see him leave Red Bull Racing after five seasons that delivered him all seven of those victories and his two pole positions, and the Perth-born 29-year-old said it was hard to make the move.
“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far,” he said. “But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge.
“I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level, but I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won.
“I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track.”
Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul said Ricciardo’s signing emphasised his team’s commitment to winning its first world championship since 2006.
“Daniel’s signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport,” he said. “It is also a recognition of the work accomplished over the past two and a half seasons.
“Daniel’s undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible.
“We welcome him to our growing team in 2019 with a great deal of pride, but also humility.”
Red Bull has been instrumental in Ricciardo’s rise through the motorsport ranks, inducting him into the Red Bull Junior Team in 2008 after just one year of racing in Europe and giving him his first Formula One drive with the now defunct HRT team in 2011.
He was promoted to Red Bull Racing feeder team Toro Rosso for 2012 before succeeding compatriot Mark Webber as teammate to then four-time reigning champion Sebastian Vettel at the senior team in 2014.
Ricciardo had little trouble seeing off the German, who struggled with the new-for-2014 aerodynamic regulations. Defeated by 71 points, Vettel announced his departure for Ferrari before the end of the season, leaving Ricciardo to lead the team alongside Daniil Kvyat in 2015 and part of 2016.
Max Verstappen’s arrival at Red Bull Racing early in 2016 changed the dynamic of the team, and many observers thought it only a matter of time until Ricciardo would seek clear air away from the hype of the teenage sensation, particularly after the Dutchman was offered a lucrative three-year deal last season and the opportunity to “build a team around him to deliver our shared ambition” in the words of team boss Horner.
“If they could make him the youngest ever world champion, [for] Red Bull as a brand, it is huge for them,” Ricciardo admitted. “From that point of view I completely understand.”
But he added that he didn’t believe Verstappen was receiving preferential treatment from the team.
Further motivation for the decision is Red Bull Racing’s switch away from Renault to Honda for power unit supply. Though trackside consensus says there’s little to choose between the two brands in terms of power output, the Japanese marque remains an unknown. It has supplied only one team each season since its return to the sport, each year incurring significant grid penalties for unreliability.
However, RBR believes Honda is demonstrating more development potential than its French counterpart, which has struggled with the turbo-hybrid formula since its 2014 introduction, but Ricciardo will likely have been attracted to an offer from a works team, which will be on the cutting edge of engine upgrades for power and reliability.
Ricciardo’s arrival at the Enstone-based French manufacturer will displace Red Bull-backed Carlos Sainz, whose one-year loan to Renault expires this season. Sainz has been linked to a McLaren move at the end of the season, but Red Bull Racing may choose to reunite him with former Toro Rosso teammate Max Verstappen in Ricciardo’s absence.