Remember back in 2015 when Renault announced they were buying the Lotus Renault GP team and entering Formula 1 for the 2016 season with Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer as its drivers with Esteban Ocon in reserve?
Back then, the discussion we were having was whether those two drivers were the drivers to hand seats to for a full works team. I argued that they are perfectly fine drivers and that at that time, the car was the biggest issue, not the drivers.
After that season—they finished in ninth place with eight points—they hired Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen left to join Haas F1. They retained Palmer but then let him go in favor of Carlos Sainz from the USGP onward.
I think this was a terrific move and again, I stated that the team had cut their teeth in 2016, got their heads around the car and now hired a driver in Hulkenberg who could begin to make a serious impact on the points-scoring as well as car development. They needed a good, solid number one at the team and Nico fit the bill. The question at that time was, “when is the right time for Renault to make the big leap and go for a top-shelf driver?”
Renault answered that last fall by hiring Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull. It is a bold move and Dan has been very humble is suggesting that he’s not taking his teammate lightly because he rates Nico very highly.
There’s little doubt that Dan costs a lot more than Nico or Kevin or Palmer. This week, Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul said they didn’t spend “stupid money” on getting the Australian in the team telling Autosport:
“There is a considerable financial commitment from Renault,” Abiteboul told Autosport.
“But it is not a question of whether Renault can afford it: it can definitely afford it as our turnover is 40 times the turnover of Red Bull. There is no question mark about that.
“The question mark is about the value. Does it make sense to invest that type of money in a driver at the level of Daniel at this point of our journey, with the car that we have and the other expense that we must do? We believe so.
“There has been some discussion about that. Would we be better off investing in to the car or the drivers?
“I think we have reached a point where we can invest in both reasonably.”
To answer our question from 2017-18, Cyril says now is the time to go for the right driver. He mentions the very comments we made back in 2016, spend money on the car or the driver. Cyril has obviously chosen to start spending money on the driver in 2019 and I think that timing is spot on…I’m sure Daniel does too.
“I would also like to say that the commercial arrangement with Daniel is extremely sensible and nowhere near what can exist elsewhere in F1,” said Abiteboul.
“It is obviously commensurate to the level of his skills and talent, and what he can bring to the team. But it is not a stupid amount of money.
“So I think it has all been done in a sensible way, and it is not in a way that will be detrimental to the team who can keep on spending on the development of the car and the engine.”
In short, the team says they didn’t spend a fortune to get Daniel and that may not speak highly of what Dan either conceded to out of a need to get out of Red Bull or what he’s worth. Neither of which I question, by the way. I think Daniel is top-shelf and valued very highly. If Cyril is talking about Lewis Hamilton type of money, then yes, I suspect Dan is a little less expensive than the 5-time champ.
As Autosport points out, the team are not looking for wins in 2019 and says that 2020 might be a timeframe to look toward for a podium appearance. This, in my mind, suggests they know that the current hybrids are the playground of Mercedes and there’s likely no chance of catching and surpassing in one season.
Either way, I think the Nico vs Dan battle will be interesting and I would wager on Dan but be completely elated if Nico could rise to the occasion and debunk doubters. On the other hand, I would love to see this gambit play out for Daniel and find himself in a top ride in 2020 with real chances to win races.
Hat Tip: Autosport