Daniel Ricciardo needs quick response after Renault debut ends in disaster
Australian driver quit Red Bull in the off-season but his first race weekend with his new team ended after five seconds
Daniel Ricciardo is used to having a tough time at his home race in Australia.
Sunday’s Formula One season opener was his eighth race in Melbourne and he is still yet to have a podium finish.
In fairness he did not have expectations of changing that this year, given he was making his Renault debut, but it was ultimately still a weekend that could be described as underwhelming.
Ricciardo’s hopes of a good finish lasted approximately five seconds. His front wing was torn off after he clipped a gutter on the grass as he tried to go around Sergio Perez at the start of the race.
It was a freak incident but one that wrecked his race and ensured he starts life at Renault on the backfoot. He was a lap down near the back of the field when he was called in to retire.
What would have been most galling for Ricciardo though, was while he was being wheeled back into the garage, his former Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen was passing Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari to take third spot.
Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull for Renault was always about the long term. Performance wise, leaving an established top team for a midfield runner was an odd one.
Ricciardo won seven races with Red Bull between 2014 and May last year, while Renault have not been victorious since October 2008.
The 29-year-old Australian is hoping Renault can become race winners again as rule changes come in to effect over the next couple of years.
Christian Horner, his former boss at Red Bull, hinted over the winter he believed the Australian had also made the move to get away from competing with Verstappen in the same machinery.
Verstappen dominated Ricciardo in the second half of 2018, both in qualifying and race trim, and so there may be an element of truth to that.
However, Ricciardo may have stepped out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire now he is up against Nico Hulkenberg.
Australia is only one race but the early advantage is with Hulkenberg. He was faster then Ricciardo in every practice session, then in qualifying, and drove a clean race to take seventh place and score six points.
Best pictures from the Australian Grand Prix
It would be easy to write off Hulkenberg: he has competed in 157 grands prix and is yet to stand on the podium, but he has never been in top machinery, having driven for Williams, Force India, Sauber and Renault.
He took pole in his first season, in 2010 with Williams, and almost won the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix in a Force India, so there is clearly a lot of talent in the 31-year-old German.
He was impressive in Melbourne in not putting a wheel wrong and getting the maximum available from the package.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, looked a little off his game all weekend. He complained about a loose seatbelt in practice and then admitted he did not extract the maximum performance in qualifying.
He has taken a risk by moving to Renault, and for it to pay off he must beat Hulkenberg consistently at the very least.
Ricciardo was seen as a future world champion back in 2014 when he was driving confidently and beating four-time world champion Vettel in the same machinery at Red Bull.
He is still one of the most popular drivers on the grid and there is no doubt he is a very good talent. But is he a great talent? Good rarely wins world titles.
Being beaten by Verstappen is one thing, losing to Hulkenberg is quite another, and quickly establishing himself at Renault is imperative if his stock in the F1 paddock is not to fall drastically.
One bad race weekend does not a crisis make, but it is vital for Ricciardo that he has a strong showing at the next round in Bahrain to assuage fears that he may have walked away from one difficult situation and into another.
Published: March 18, 2019 03:03 PM