It was confirmed at around 7pm Sydney time, May 14, that Daniel Ricciardo will be leaving Renault and joining the McLaren F1 team. Ferrari later confirmed Carlos Sainz as the co-driver with Charles Leclerc. Sainz, aged 25, will join the Italian squad on a two-year deal after two seasons at McLaren. This will form the youngest driver pairing in Ferrari’s recent history in the process.
Again, at the time of writing, it remains unclear as to what Vettel will do; one slightly fantastic rumour, and yet still not without the realms of possibility, that Mercedes would sign Vettel, meaning the luckless yet undoubtedly talented Valtteri Bottas would be without a team. As far as we know.
In the interim, the confirmation of Sainz at Ferrari confirms a worst kept secret and also shutters the dreams of many Australians, and some Italians it must be said, to have an Australian Italian at the most famous of Italian linked names.
“I am very happy that I will be driving for Scuderia Ferrari in 2021 and I’m excited about my future with the team,” said Sainz. “I still have an important year ahead with McLaren Racing and I’m really looking forward to going racing again with them this season”
Mattia Binotto was quick to underline Sainz’s experience. “We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”
However the other questions that have been raised are intriguing. One is that Mercedes may yet sign Vettel, as mentioned. It also opens up the possibility that Vettel may stay in F1 and fill the position left by either Sainz or Ricciardo. There’s even chatter about retired champion Fernando Alonso rejoining F1, as may Nico Hulkenberg.
According to sources well placed in motorsport, a key reason that Ricciardo has decided to jump ship is to do with the forthcoming engine supply agreement that Mercedes and McLaren have agreed to. It also has strong yet, in honesty, unfounded rumours, that Mercedes may withdraw from F1 and focus on engine development and supply. A tenuous link was drawn to the Toto Wolff becoming heavily involved with Aston Martin, an iconic brand that now sources powerplants from Mercedes…
Head of McLaren, Zak Brown has put the broom through McLaren after taking over from Ron Dennis. He’s signed Andreas Seidl as team principal and James Key as Technical Director. Bringing on a determined and proven talent in the form of Daniel Ricciardo is a further sign that the team is keen to expand and aim higher.
Brown said on Thursday “Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan and will bring an exciting new dimension to the team, alongside Lando. This is good news for our team, partners and of course our fans. I also want to pay tribute to Carlos for the excellent job he has been doing for McLaren in helping our performance recovery plan. He is a real team player and we wish him well for his future beyond McLaren.”
The story goes back further than just the last few days, or couple of weeks. When Ricciardo was showing clear signs of being exasperated at Red Bull, and McLaren had alrady come a-knocking. However, as history shows, Renault’s wooing was successful. As it’s eventuated, that’s pretty much it in regards to success between Renault and Ricciardo. At aged 30, in a sport where 25 is starting to be considered middle aged, Ricciardo needed a parachute out. In the most tragic of ways, it seems Covid-19 was that out.
With Melbourne’s F1 round cancelled hours before practice, and the subsequent event by event cancellation, the real time tracktime for Renault to allow Ricciardo to test and showcase what improvements may have come their way has narrowed and become, in genuine terms, simply not enough. Ricciardo recognises that, saying: “If you’re winning, it’s hard to walk away. Rosberg did, but for most of us, it would be hard to walk away while winning. I can say today I want to be done by 35, but if I’m winning at 35 and if I’ve still got a chance to win, it would be hard not to keep going.”
We’ll continue to keep you updated as developments are released.