Having been treated like the second driver as Red Bull gushed over young gun Max Verstappen, Ricciardo went to Renault for greener pastures — and a heftier pay packet — as he looked for another path to an elusive world title.
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2019 proved to be a disaster but it was quickly forgotten in 2020.
Ricciardo had a bet with Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul that he would get a podium, the team’s first since 2011.
The Aussie did it twice with two third place finishes, while his teammate Esteban Ocon claimed a second at the penultimate Sakhir Grand Prix.
It was a monumental step forward for the team but Ricciardo had announced he was moving to McLaren in May after the F1 season was postponed, having not driven in the 2020 Renault car.
Some believed it was a call that could have backfired, but if Renault were seen to have had a good 2020, McLaren’s was out of this world.
With Ferrari’s backwards trajectory, McLaren, Racing Point and Renault were in a battle for third in the constructors championship with McLaren claiming the spot for the first time since 2012.
The team is heading in the right direction with McLaren getting an injection of cash for finishing in third, while just before the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix it was announced that MSP Sports Capital was investing $A325 million.
While the decision is looking better and better for Ricciardo and McLaren, former Red Bull star Mark Webber has also piled on a reality check for Renault after losing the man who “carried” the team in 2020, despite bringing two-time champion Fernando Alonso back into the fray.
“I think he drove awesome this year,” Webber said to speedcafe.com of Ricciardo.
“I’ve actually personally spent more time with Daniel than ever this year and it’s been quite good to see (how) he’s enjoyed this year.
“(It is) not (because of) less pressure, but just because he really felt valued at the team and he’s going to feel that again, I think, at McLaren next year. That’s sort of the step away from where he was at Red Bull.
“I think he did what he advertised he was going to do at Renault and that’s what he is.
“He’s an infectious character, he lifted Enstone, they really did a good job, he carried the team effectively this year, made very little errors, and he’ll take that to McLaren.
“So, I think Daniel’s stock is still tremendous – we know that – and he’s good for the sport.
“We need him more towards the front. He’s a guy that needs to be on the podiums; he celebrates success, he celebrates what our sport, in essence, should be about, (which) is the characters, so let’s see.”
Even Abiteboul conceded that Ricciardo made Renault “a much stronger team”.
Ricciardo’s 119-point tally personally outpointed Renault’s entire 2019 haul of 91 points and nearly doubled Ocon’s tally of 62 points.
Two podiums, 14 top-10 finishes and 11 consecutive point scoring races ended a brilliant season for Ricciardo.
But he’s also stepping into the shoes of Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz who formed a bromance with McLaren young gun Lando Norris.
The team know the dynamic will be different but as a seven-time winner in the sport, Ricciardo brings impressive experience with him.
“The most important thing from my point of view is that we preserve the conditions we created to allow that high level of collaboration between Carlos and Lando,” McLaren Racing director Andrea Stella explained.
“But it’s not just about preserving those conditions, we may have to adapt them. Daniel is not Carlos and his relationship with Lando will be different.
“It may be similar, but it will not be the same and we need to be mindful of that and adapt with a view to maintain the standards.”
And off the track, McLaren CEO Zak Brown has painted a rosy picture of the team’s future.
“We’ll run at the cost cap now, so I think we’ll be back being one of the ‘big’ teams,” Brown told Sky Sports with teams running at a budget cap of $A192m ($US145m) per season.
“So it’s great. We’re turning on our wind tunnel project, all of our CapEx (capital expenditure). We have some catching up so do so it’s going to take some time, but I like the journey we’re on.”