Two leading Formula 1 journalists have poured cold water on expectations Daniel Ricciardo’s bombshell move to McLaren will put him closer to the front of the grid.
The 30-year-old Aussie last week stunned the Formula 1 grid when his multi-year contract with the English team was announced just days after reports Sebastian Vettel would be replaced by Carlos Sainz at Ferrari.
McLaren appeared a team on the rise heading into 2020 after leap-frogging Renault to finish fourth in the constructor’s championship last year — but leading reporters are now publicly questioning the logic behind Ricciardo’s big gamble.
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With Ricciardo’s years in the sport already running out, there are widespread suspicions his move to McLaren may actually have put him further away from becoming a future world champion.
Veteran British Formula 1 reporter and author Joe Saward revealed in a podcast this week Renault ultimately has better potential than McLaren to challenge Ferrari and Mercedes at the front of the grid.
His assessment is heavily influenced by the French team’s status as an engine producer, while McLaren will next year swap Renault engines for a Mercedes power unit.
“I don’t see Daniel moving to McLaren as a step up, I see that as a step sideways, probably because he wasn’t very comfortable at Renault,” Saward said during an appearance on the Missed Apex podcast.
“I was a little bit surprised that you would go from a manufacturer team, with its own engines, to a tertiary-level Mercedes team.
“McLaren used to be a great team, but there’s a lot to prove.”
He says Renault actually pulled off a coup last year by pinching former McLaren engineering director Pat Fry to oversee its chassis and aerodynamics design.
“The biggest problem (Renault) had a couple of years ago was the engine, it wasn’t powerful enough. But now the engine is powerful enough, and last year their problem was that the chassis wasn’t good,” Saward said.
“They’ve changed the chassis department around, they’ve brought in Pat Fry. What did Pat Fry do last year? He made McLaren do well. It was Pat Fry who made that happen. He’s now left McLaren.
“So, going to McLaren from Renault might not be the smartest thing that Daniel Ricciardo ever did, because Pat Fry might be taking all that knowledge to the team that Daniel’s just left.”
The hits kept coming for Ricciardo on Monday with a leading Formula 1 journalist in France taking a swipe at the Australian over his decision to abandon Renault after less than 18 months.
Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul also appeared to take a thinly veiled shot at his star driver when the team had to announce his departure, just one year into their supposed long-term partnership.
Ricciardo’s decision to abandon ship was seen as a vote of no confidence in the direction Renault is heading in — but according to TV presenter and Autohebdo reporter Julian Billiotte, the team won’t miss the former Red Bull driver.
Billiotte, who works with the Formula 1’s official TV partner Canal + in France, has publicly questioned the value Ricciardo brought to the team after signing a rich two-year deal that reportedly saw him become the third-highest paid driver on the grid behind Vettel and world champion Lewis Hamilton.
He questioned if Ricciardo was worth the reportedly massive contract after failing to drag the team closer to the front of the grid in 2019.
“Let’s just say that I think the 2019 season may have revealed his (Ricciardo) limits, particularly in terms of leadership, although he remains an excellent driver of course,” Billiotte posted on Twitter.
“However, his rating does not seem to have suffered, especially among our British colleagues.
“He helped in terms of status, signed brilliant shots, and brought the experience of a top team as well as his legendary good humour. But we also had the feeling, seen from the field, that he quickly picked up after a very complicated start to the season.”
Meanwhile, former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button has predicted Daniel Ricciardo will have a tricky time navigating his future partnership with 20-year-old Lando Norris at McLaren.
“Going up against Lando is different because he’s a young gun an doesn’t really have anything to prove at the moment,” Button told Skysports.com.
“It’s always a tricky atmosphere when you go up against someone very young that’s very talented and life’s just easy for them at that moment in time.
“It puts more pressure on your shoulders as the team leader. I’m looking forward to seeing how that relationship unfolds and hopefully the car is competitive so we can see them fighting near the front.”
Sky Sports F1 guru Martin Brundle also suggested Ricciardo had done something to fall off Ferrari’s radar as the team considered replacements for Vettel recently.
“I think Carlos will handle the pressure there very well. He’ll fit the mould,” Brundle said.
“Would I have taken Ricciardo instead of Sainz? I might just have done. Something’s turned them off about Ricciardo.”