At face value, Daniel Ricciardo’s move from Red Bull to Renault hasn’t been a happy one, with his former team reaping the rewards of a strong first year with a vastly improved Honda effort.
Max Verstappen claimed a season-best three wins in 2019 to finish third in the standings – an achievement Ricciardo registered with the team in 2014 and 2016.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, managed just eight points finishes with his new team as the R.S.19 package proved volatile week to week in a season again dominated by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
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The Australian finished 11th in Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but despite his and the team’s struggles, finished 2019 ninth in the drivers’ standings.
Ricciardo ends the year on 54 points, five places above outgoing Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg, with the German 14th on 37 points.
RATING THE FIRST RICCIARDO-RENAULT YEAR
Disappointingly for Renault, they fell wide of their goal of finishing fourth in the constructors’ standings, with a resurgent McLaren squad steamrolling towards ‘best of the rest’ status.
After impressing to fourth with 122 points in 2018, Renault brought in 91 points to finish 54 points down on McLaren. Staving off Toro Rosso proved some solace for the French giant, but Renault’s big negative was that they had indeed lost ground on the top three teams, rather than acting on their promise to close the gap.
When he confirmed his signing with Renault midway through the 2018 season, Ricciardo was measured in his expectations: “I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level.”
However, he cited history as being a key reason behind his signing: “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.”
Eight points finishes from 21 starts for a driver of Ricciardo’s obvious calibre is not what Renault would have expected when they signed him. An ambition was to see Ricciardo take Renault from the midfield to the front of the grid. Wins and podiums were always set to be distant in 2019, but few could have predicted just how far away they would be come the aftermath in Abu Dhabi.
Sunday’s Abu Dhabi race was even stranger – Ricciardo and Hulkenberg started seventh and ninth respectively, but both missed the podium. Hulkenberg battled with a one-stop strategy and was in the points until the very last lap of the race, before two-stoppers Carlos Sainz and Ricciardo dropped him to 12th. Sainz stole sixth in the standings with the final point, while Ricciardo missed out by just 0.901s.
After the Abu Dhabi season finale, Ricciardo admitted the team underachieved this season, but expects much bigger things in 2020.
“It was quite a standard race for me today,” Ricciardo said at the Yas Marina Circuit.
“We struggled a little on the hard tyre after the first stop, which was a shame, and at the end I tried to make up the ground on the faster tyre, but we just ran out of time.
“Although, looking at the bigger picture for us, it was a positive that we managed to secure fifth in the constructors’ championship, which was our goal coming into the weekend. We’re optimistic heading into the off-season and looking ahead for next season.”
Eight points finishes from 21 starts is one thing, but four retirements is another – especially first-up on home soil in Melbourne.
Non-finishes in Bahrain and Azerbaijan sandwiched seventh in China, leaving Ricciardo with three failures and one points finish. It would be a mixed bag of results until his next DNF – an exhaust issue in Germany – with sixth in Canada the obvious highlight after qualifying fourth.
Fourth at Monza – which loomed to be Renault’s worst track of the season – was a great surprise to many, not the least Ricciardo as he led home Hulkenberg in the third of the team’s five eventual double points finishes. A stunning drive to sixth at Suzuka amounted to nothing when both Renaults were disqualified over a brake bias drama.
Ricciardo turned the third fewest race laps (1120) in 2019, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris (1102) and Haas’ Romain Grosjean (1043).
FEWER POINTS THAN USUAL, BUT AN INTRA-TEAM VICTORY NONETHELESS
Ricciardo’s 54 points are less than a third of what he scored in 2018, and over a quarter of what he managed in 2017 – and a fifth of what he managed when he last reached the championship podium in 2016.
Critically, he outscored teammate Hulkenberg by 17 points – a significant margin considering how few points are for the midfield teams – and outqualified the German 13-7.
Ocon will arrive from 2020, adding another challenge for the Australia. However, he should take confidence having defeated another highly-rated – and established – teammate after previously ousting the likes of Jean-Éric Vergne, Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen when in the Red Bull fold.
DANIEL RICCIARDO: 2019 SEASON RESULTS
Race: DNF (power unit)
Race: 18th (classified; power unit)
Race: DNF (collision damage)
10. Great Britain
Race: DNF (exhaust)
Race: DNF (collision damage)
19. United States
21. Abu Dhabi
8. Alex Albon (92 points)
9. Daniel Ricciardo (54 points)
10. Sergio Perez (52 points)