When Daniel Ricciardo made his big-money move to Renault, it seemed as though the team had the last piece of the jigsaw it needed to complete its Formula 1 recovery bid. 

Renault’s plan since re-entering the championship in 2016 as a fully-fledged works outfit has been clear: to be scoring podiums by 2020 and winning races again by 2021. 

Progress had been steady but productive as the French manufacturer improved from ninth to sixth in 2017 and followed that up by claiming top midfield honours in 2018 with a ‘best-of-the-rest’ fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship. 

Luring a multiple grand prix race-winner away from Red Bull acted as a major coup for Renault as it looked to make further gains in 2019 and reduce the gap to F1’s established top three teams consisting of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. 

Ricciardo was full of optimism ahead of his move and so were Renault, with positive noises of major gains with its power unit coming out of Viry-Châtillon prior to the start of the season and confidence seemingly brimming at the team’s pre-season launch at Enstone. 

But things did not quite go to plan in 2019. Chassis and engine development was slow throughout the year and Renault ended up going backwards as it slipped to fifth in the standings. It was even overhauled by a revitalised McLaren squad powered by its own power unit - acting as an additional low blow.

Ricciardo did not make the headline-grabbing start he would have liked at Renault but hit his stride as the European leg of the year kicked into action as he got to grips with his new surroundings and ended up comprehensively out-performing teammate Nico Hulkenberg to land a top-10 finish in the championship by the season’s end, having amassed 54 of the 91 points Renault achieved.

Despite the French manufacturer’s disappointing campaign, Ricciardo remained upbeat about Renault’s prospects and insisted he had no regrets over his decision to join the team. At the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a reflective Ricciardo felt 2019 had ultimately made him “stronger” as a driver and highlighted his aim to fully embed himself into the project over the winter break. 

This is a role the charismatic and fun-going Australian should embrace and have no troubles with, and Ricciardo fully believes such an approach will help instil a winning mentality into his side. 


“I’ve got some ideas of things I can do more or better, we will find out,” Ricciardo explained.  

“I feel like I integrated myself into the team well but I look back and feel like I can do more. 

“I want to have a bit more presence before the season starts and before testing, but also have some ideas which of things we can do together as a team to get us into the season. 

"Not just technically but as a team unit I want to get to Barcelona feeling like we have some momentum before the season even starts.

"Even some team morale stuff - all team building and some activities,” he added. “More importantly to spend time with the team. Even away from the track. 

“At the track even like with Cyril [Abiteboul, Renault team boss] sometimes it is ‘hi’ and that is all you get over the weekend because we are busy. So you don’t always get good quality time at the circuit. 

“I feel that to take this relationship to the next level I feel getting time away from the track is good. Just having that feeling, even for the guys, if they know each other a bit more they will want to work a little bit harder for each other and make some good stuff happen.”

For Ricciardo, the switch to Renault was always about the long-term with a raft of sporting, technical and financial regulation changes on the horizon for 2021. 

In a similar fashion to the gamble Lewis Hamilton took by leaving McLaren for Mercedes in 2013 - and the subsequent five world championships that have followed for the Briton - Ricciardo was braced for a potentially tough start, with the hope of reaping the rewards further down the line. 

And Renault are no slouches. This is fundamentally the same team that claimed back-to-back championship doubles with Fernando Alonso between 2005-2006 to finally end Michael Schumacher and Ferrari’s long-standing and record-breaking reign at the top of F1. It also boasts the resources to pull off its bold aims. 

Ever since rekindling its project as a factory-run outfit in 2016, the focus was on the rule changes coming in 2021, with Renault pinpointing this overhaul as its best chance of returning to winning ways and look to challenge F1’s current ‘big three’. 

Such is the importance of the 2021 rules and new Concorde Agreement to Renault that the manufacturer’s whole F1 operation could be swayed by the changes in the middle of an ongoing company-wide review into all its activities. Now there is even greater emphasis on Renault’s project succeeding in line with its goals. 

Engine performance and reliability (particularly the MGU-K) and race pace proved to be Renault’s Achilles’ Heel in 2019 and will be the priority areas to improve for 2020, as will getting its aerodynamic concept nailed. 

The team has undergone a reshuffle to its aerodynamics team as a result and the re-hiring of former McLaren and Ferrari technical chief Pat Fry - and Dirk de Beer - has gone someway in strengthening its operation. 

Changes have also been made to its driver line-up, with the highly-rated Esteban Ocon joining Ricciardo for 2020 as replacement for Hulkenberg, who departs the team (and the F1 grid altogether) after spearheading much of Renault’s revival since his arrival in 2017.

The pairing of Ricciardo and Ocon should blossom into a successful one on paper at least, with both drivers likely to push each other and Renault to extract maximum performance out of its 2020 assault. 

Ricciardo will now find himself as the de facto team leader and will be responsible for leading technical feedback and influencing Renault’s development direction as it looks to wrestle back midfield supremacy from McLaren. 

While much of its focus will understandably be on 2021, it is imperative that Renault continues to make progress this season if it is to recapture its upward trajectory and keep Ricciardo happy, with the prospect of potential seats opening at Ferrari and Mercedes in the coming years. 

 

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