Daniel Ricciardo’s third place at the Eifel Grand Prix ended a long drought for the Aussie – and Renault – but success came under somewhat bitter-sweet circumstances.
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Despite eight retirements in 20 races in his last season for Red Bull, many still had their heads scratched when they left.
And the haters seemed right, as 2019 was essentially a write-off that saw Ricciardo drop to ninth in the drivers’ standings – his worst performance since driving for Toro Rosso.
Although Renault wanted to hold onto Ricciardo through 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had made a decision for the Aussie as the start of the second season of its two-year deal was postponed.
He went for McLaren next year, which Renault took over in the 2019 season.
But two-thirds of the way to 2020, the Perth-born star has to start questioning that decision after finishing fourth in the drivers’ standings – ahead of both Ferraris, a Red Bull and two McLarens.
Ricciardo has only improved his current position twice – in third-placed 2014 and 2016 Red Bull seasons – and hopes his results are more about him than his car.
While there are six more races and anything could happen, it is a phenomenal effort for Ricciardo when the Renault car takes big steps forward.
But his elusive podium in Germany might not have happened if future McLaren teammate Lando Norris hadn’t collapsed with about 15 laps left.
Ricciardo, who had been closely followed by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, was allowed to make a pit stop to prepare for a 10-lap sprint to the finish.
Far from thinking about the future ramifications of a broken down McLaren handing him his first Renault podium, Ricciardo told Sky Sports that he was delighted to be driving his luck.
“It was pretty stressful, but it’s been two and a half years since I got a podium and it’s really nice,” he said.
“When we signed the dotted line of this Renault contract, it should be up here and get a podium by the second year – we achieved that.
“Next year is a different story. I keep going, but I think this is still a pretty cool story that we had and shared over these two years, and the good news is that it’s not over yet. ”
Looking ahead to the next season, a clear decision at the beginning of the year has become gloomy.
McLaren currently uses Renault engines, but will switch to Mercedes engines from 2021.
Although McLaren is two points ahead of Renault in the constructors’ championship this season, Carlos Sainz has not yet had a flawless year on the field that Ricciardo will occupy in 2021.
A runner-up in the Italian Grand Prix was the highlight, but he’s pulled back twice (although his Russian crash was a driver’s mistake) and only scored enough points to finish 11th in the drivers’ standings.
Ricciardo now has three quarters, a fifth and a sixth ahead of his new third place.
Despite the very different fortunes between Ricciardo and his McLaren rivals this season, the Western Australian reiterated that he was happy with his choice.
“To be honest, I’m obviously okay with this and positive and excited for the next year, but I would much rather end on a high,” he said.
“People think it’s easier to leave when we’re fighting and it’s like you’re moving on to something better, but I don’t want a phase of the fight. I want to be successful in every race.
“It’s cool to leave here with success and positive and with the team with a lot of excitement and happiness and to see them all today. I’m fine with everything now and I’m just very happy that we had a successful season and that we want to be among the frontrunners again, that’s what I want. It’s nice to be at the end. ”
He added, “I know a lot of people wanted this and had my back to see me up here in Renault. Thank you for everyone who wanted to see it as much as I did. ”
Ricciardo will be leaving Renault in a better place than at the beginning.
After some animosity when his decision to leave the team was made, Renault and Ricciardo appear to have made peace.
Even his old Red Bull team was happy for the Aussie. Runner-up Max Verstappen soaked Ricciardo with champagne on the podium before the team offered a sweet congratulations.
Red Bull has struggled to find a driver to compete alongside Max Verstappen since Ricciardo left. Perhaps the Aussie is the X factor to improve the teams he was better at.
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