At the end of that 2018 season, Renault finished in a promising fourth place with nearly double the points of McLaren.
But after a turnaround in respective fortunes in 2019, when McLaren took fourth by a comfortable margin and signed several key deals – including a Mercedes engine supply for 2021 – Brown believes Ricciardo has bought into their long-term plans.
“Getting a Grand Prix winner like Daniel definitely is a sign we’ve going in the right direction,” said Brown, McLaren’s chief executive to Sky Sports. “He believes in that.
“We went after him a couple of years ago before he made the decision not to join us. I’ve talked to him about it since and he went ‘you were coming off a pretty poor season’ – which was putting it politely – ‘but also there was a lot of this is what we’re going to do to rebuild the team’.
“I hadn’t brought in yet Andreas Seidl or James Key or restructured the leadership team. So there were a lot of promises and, coming off such a bad season, I could see how he would go ‘oh, let’s see how this plays out’.”
But, two years on, Brown says: “He likes how it’s played out, I’ve liked how it’s played out. He’s seen the changes we’ve made, the leadership Andreas has brought, the backing we have from our shareholders, going to the Mercedes engine, we’re a team on the move and I think he’s going to help get us to the next level.”
Remarkably, the majority of races will be held in Europe’s countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, including Great Britain, Spain and Italy.
The double headers in Austria and Great Britain, while unprecedented, is not the only major change we will see once the racing returns.
No announcement was made on crowds but it is expected that there will be no spectators allowed at circuits until at least September, meaning broadcasters have put more pressure on F1 to find a creative solution to make the races livelier and more of a spectacle.
There are fears that the same race repeated on the same track for consecutive weeks, at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring, will dull the interest of the public tuning in.
One suggestion has been to replace qualifying at the second race weekend at Austria and Great Britain with a 30-minute sprint race, similar to the format in Formula 2, where drivers start in reverse order of their previous finishing teams.
Unsurprisingly, nine of the 10 teams were in favour of the initiative except for the team that has found themselves at the front for the last seven years, Mercedes, whom Red Bull team principal Christian Horner accused of rejecting the idea in a bid to see Lewis Hamilton claim a seventh world title.
“I think we’ve got a unique situation this year, and by having two races at the same venue, it would seem the perfect time to try something different at the second event,” Horner said. “Otherwise, with stable weather conditions, we’re likely to have the same outcome in race two as we have in race one.
“The only person who wasn’t particularly supportive of the proposal was Toto, because he thought it would interfere with Lewis’ campaign for a seventh world championship, and it would be too much of a variable.”
While the second races may not be different, they will certainly be called different things, with the second Austrian Grand Prix being renamed the Styria Grand Prix, after the home region of the circuit, while the second British Grand Prix at Silverstone will simply be known as the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
All members of the F1 paddock will be subject to testing every 48 hours for coronavirus to minimise the risk of spreading, while each team has been encouraged to charter its own flights wherever possible and have private transfers ready between venues, hotels and airports.
With social distancing also set to be strictly enforced, celebrations will be far more muted than usual, with none of the champagne fights atop the podium that we are so accustomed to seeing.
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Three races, Australia, Monaco and France, have been permanently struck off the 2020 calendar, but F1 and its chief executive Chase Carey remain confident of rearranging at least some of the others which were postponed.
F1 is hoping to stage at least 15 races this season, with eight now already locked in. Reports suggest that money-spinning events in Russia and Azerbaijan will be scheduled in September, after the Italian Grand Prix, with Singapore’s street circuit proving too difficult to keep behind closed doors and will therefore be postponed until next season.
Japan remains a possibility for October before we move to the Americas for the US, Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix in November, with the season reaching its climax with a double header in the Middle East in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
He will do so cutting the figure of a tortured soul — something a four-time world champion should never be when roaming the F1 paddock.
Five trophyless seasons driving for the sport’s most iconic, and demanding, team will probably do that.
So, too, will the pressure of living up to the sport’s most successful driver, Michael Schumacher.
Vettel always looked up to his German compatriot, who won seven world championships between 1994 and 2004. He first met him as a starstruck seven year-old that wanted to be everything he ever was.
For a long time, Vettel was walking ahead of his path.
In 2008, he became F1’s youngest-ever race winner, claiming the Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso at 21 years and 73 days. Two years later, he was history’s youngest F1 champion after clinching the 2010 title for Red Bull in a final race nailbiter.
Another three titles followed in consecutive years, making Vettel a four-time world champion before his 27th birthday.
But after a disastrous 2014, in which new teammate Daniel Ricciardo comprehensively outdrove him and Mercedes claimed the F1 throne, Vettel looked elsewhere.
Like his idol, he saw Ferrari.
Despite the similarities, comparisons between Vettel and Schumacher have always been overly simplistic.
Yes, they are both German, ruthless competitors and young champions at non-works teams before joining Ferrari. Both were unsuccessful across their first four years in Italy, too.
But in leaving Ferrari empty-handed, the differences between Vettel and Schumacher have been laid bare.
Whether it was Benetton, Ferrari, or to a lesser extent, Mercedes, Schumacher had a way of making a team his own. His authority wouldn’t be questioned — and he certainly wouldn’t be pulled into a dogfight with his own teammate.
Given the way he gradually won a power battle over Mark Webber at Red Bull, Vettel was thought to have that same air of superiority about him.
Instead, a certain softness has developed over time, both on and off the track,
The 32-year-old is now a father of three who is openly friendly to even his greatest rivals, such as Lewis Hamilton.
On the track, he’s become increasingly prone to error and was even nudged aside by young gun Charles Leclerc in the 2019 standings.
That Ferrari’s eggs are now in the basket of the 22-year-old in his third season of F1, and Vettel is staring into the void of retirement, says it all.
Schumacher never would have let that happen.
But while the evidence is stacked against Vettel, he’s not done just yet.
Look at how badly he took losing the Canadian Grand Prix last year to Hamilton due to a controversial penalty, completing the symbolic, yet frivolous, act of swapping the No.1 and 2 boards in front of their cars.
There’s a fire there that still burns. It’s up to someone to stoke it.
Where Vettel will land next season is anyone’s guess, but the key contenders are Renault, Mercedes and his couch.
Renault would appear to be a frontrunner with the expensive Ricciardo now off its books. Rumours are circling about a potential return for Fernando Alonso who has twice signed for Renault where he won two world titles.
But should he not fancy coming back to F1, then Vettel is the obvious big fish for Renault to chase as a Ricciardo replacement.
The German, however, is accustomed to racing at the front-end, which Renault does not.
Mercedes does, and is yet to secure the services of any driver after this year.
The German manufacturer will throw the kitchen sink at trying to convince Hamilton to stay on, but the six-time world champion has also flirted with the idea of retirement.
Meanwhile, Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas also faces an uncertain future at Brackley as he enters the final months of his contract.
While it’s true there’s often little to gain from acquiring two big-name drivers other than a people-management headache, there’s something that feels right about Vettel finishing with Mercedes.
A German – particularly one of Vettel’s calibre – racing for a German team is an appealing proposition.
In some sports, such a partnership only carries sentimental value. But in the world of F1, where teams rely heavily on sponsorship money to prosper rather than handouts, it can prove a worthwhile exercise.
That’s not to say that Vettel would simply amount to a marketing tool for Mercedes.
Former race engineer Rob Smedley claims that Vettel is still at the top of his game despite not having the points to show for it.
Speaking on the F1 nation, he said: “I think we’ve got a really good driver there, a really wonderful driver.
“And do you know what I think his best year in Formula 1 is – and I’m going to get hammered for this – his best year in Formula 1 was last year, it was 2019.
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“I think he faced the biggest challenge of his career that year, and everybody kind of wrote him off because it was the easy thing to do, that Charles is just going to get better and better and it’s the end of Sebastian, if you like.
“I think we saw the real Sebastian Vettel towards the end of the year (which) Sebastian had a little bit lost – and I’m sure he’d freely admit that, that he wasn’t where he wanted to be, both within the team and with his teammate at the start of the year – but then he actually got his head down, and that’s the sign of a true champion, he came back.”
He added: “I’m just not sure that he’s ever had the challenge that he had in 2019, so for him to cope with that, and to come back and kind of stamp his authority after a shaky start, I personally think we saw something special.”
Somewhere within Vettel there’s still that four-time world champion – and 32 years of age is not too late to give up looking for it.
He may never be Schumacher, because that ship has sailed.
But that doesn’t mean he has to settle on being something less, just different.