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Daniel Ricciardo exposes Renault’s biggest flaw

Despite some “moments of promise”, the dramatic resurgence of Daniel Ricciardo has exposed Renault teammate Esteban Ocon, according to former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer.After a disappointing 2019 season, Ricciardo has made a triumphant return from the coronavirus lockdown. The Australian finished in the top five at races in Britain, Belgium, France and Russia, before snaring…

Despite some “moments of promise”, the dramatic resurgence of Daniel Ricciardo has exposed Renault teammate Esteban Ocon, according to former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer.

After a disappointing 2019 season, Ricciardo has made a triumphant return from the coronavirus lockdown. The Australian finished in the top five at races in Britain, Belgium, France and Russia, before snaring a highly-anticipated podium at the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.

It was Renault’s first podium finish in the F1 since 2011.

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On the F1 drivers’ standings, Ricciardo sits ahead of all Ferrari and Racing Point drivers in fourth position, one spot behind former Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, with Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas leading the way.

However, Ocon hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success — the French driver has cracked the top five just once this year, and he currently sits in 12th position with 36 points.

In his maiden season with Renault, Ocon has out-qualified Ricciardo just once, during a wet session at the Styrian Grand Prix back in July.

Although Ocon has by no means struggled in the F1 this year, Palmer believes the 24-year-old isn’t “stacking up well” against his Australian counterpart.

“As for Ricciardo, he has been brilliant in 2020 and is making Ocon look quite average right now on his return to a full-time drive,” Palmer said on BBC Sport.

“Ocon is a young driver of good potential — and showed it alongside Sergio Perez at Force India in 2017 and 2018 — but he simply isn’t stacking up well against Ricciardo, which is a mark of how consistently well the Australian is performing this season.

“Although he was only a fraction behind Ricciardo in qualifying at the Nurburgring, Ocon carries close to a 0.2 second deficit on average over the season so far.

“But it’s actually the races where the difference is bigger.

“In that Styrian Grand Prix where Ocon qualified ahead, it wasn’t long before Ricciardo was crawling over the back of the Frenchman and eventually came through. And in Sochi, the race before Nurburgring, Ricciardo passed Ocon after a poor start, and eventually pulled ahead by a full 26 seconds.

“It’s not to say Ocon’s been particularly poor. He has had moments of promise, and more reliability issues than Ricciardo, and he’s new to the team after a season on the sidelines.

“But I’m sure even Renault will be surprised at how Ricciardo is outperforming their new signing. He’s in the best form he’s been in for a while, and this year he can actually finish in a higher championship position than he managed in his final two seasons at Red Bull.”

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Renault hasn’t finished in the top three of an F1 season since 2007 — the French team is currently six points behind third-placed Racing Point on the constructors’ standings.

“Overall this year, Renault are bang on their usual batting average, in fifth place out of the 10 teams in the standings with six races to go,” Palmer said.

“But actually there are now signs of real progress, and they have more than just a trophy and some champagne to celebrate after Ricciardo’s result on Sunday.

“They finally look to be making strides towards the front, and this result has been on the cards for some time. Since bringing upgrades to the car at Silverstone, Ricciardo has been a second-row qualifier, and a fastest lap setter in addition to those three fourth places.

“These are just rewards for the effort and progress Renault have made from a disappointing 2019, and it was great to see the smiles on the faces of my former colleagues under the podium on Sunday.

“This feels like an opportunity for the team to move forward, rather than rest on the laurels of a breakthrough podium.

“Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo’s young teammate, has had a few reliability woes so far, but Renault will be hoping he can find a bit more form as well to match Ricciardo and add more points to Renault’s championship aspirations.”

Palmer represented Renault in the F1 for two seasons in 2016 and 2017, where he racked up nine career points.

The Portuguese Grand Prix will commence on Monday morning AEDT, with lights out scheduled for 12:10am.

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