Red Bull team principal believes Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to leave the Formula 1 team was influenced by a fear of playing a support role to Max Verstappen

Ricciardo shocked the F1 world last week when it was announced he would bring an end to his five-year spell at Red Bull to join Renault for the 2019 season. 

Speaking in a podcast on the official F1 website, Horner said: “I guess in his mind he’s felt that after five years he feels he needs a new challenge, a new prospectus. 

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“I think that obviously he’s chosen to join the Renault team, that he feels they’re in the ascendancy. He knows the Renault product very well from all the time that he’s spent with us.

“And I can’t help but feel that he wants to be [in] a leading role perhaps in a smaller environment. The competition between he and Max is intense. Max is growing stronger and stronger. And I think Daniel’s just decided that the timing is right for him to check out and try something else.”

Horner insisted both drivers would have continued to have equal status within the team next year, but felt the continued rise of Verstappen ultimately acted as a deciding factor behind Ricciardo’s exit from Red Bull.  

“He sees Max growing and growing in terms of speed and strength and he doesn’t want to play a support role, I guess, for want of better words. Not that they’re in any way treated in any way different,” he added. 

“They would have had equal status as they have always had but I can’t but feel that was perhaps a large part of Daniel’s decision-making. I could understand if it was to Ferrari or Mercedes. But it’s an enormous risk at his stage in his career.”

Horner also revealed Red Bull was willing to meet all of Ricciardo’s contract demands following a number of meetings between the Australian and team hierarchy. 

“Daniel’s had conversations with Dietrich [Mateschitz, Red Bull owner], with myself, with Helmut [Marko, motorsport director]. And we’ve bent over backwards to make it happen,” Horner explained. But if someone’s heart’s not really in it. And it just felt like that. 

“In the end of the day we gave Daniel everything that he wanted and asked for and it still wasn’t enough I think in his mind to say ‘I want to keep going at Red Bull’. It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about status, it wasn’t about position or commitment or duration. 

“I think he felt that ‘I need to take something else on at this stage in my career now’. It might be an inspired choice, it might be one that he regrets.”

Red Bull is set to join forces with Honda from next season after cutting ties on its 12-year association with Renault engines, but Horner is convinced Ricciardo’s decision was not down to concerns over the move, following the Japanese power unit manufacturer’s disastrous spell with McLaren. 

“He knows the comparative performance of the two engines and reliability,” he said. “We were even prepared to do a one-year agreement so he was available to Ferrari and Mercedes should they come knocking in 12 months’ time, because obviously they haven’t taken him up.”

Horner admitted he thought Ricciardo was joking when he informed him of his decision to leave Red Bull last Thursday, having finally made up his mind on a flight to the US.

“I thought he was winding me up when he rang me yesterday afternoon to say he’s going to Renault,” he added. “But it then became very clear that was his choice. 

“You have to respect that. Renault are a growing team, they’re committing resource there. Maybe it’s an inspired choice.”

Red Bull is currently in the process of evaluating which driver it wants to partner Verstappen next season, though Horner has effectively ruled out signing McLaren's Fernando Alonso

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