Daniel Ricciardo is all ready to walk away from Red Bull if the team switch from Renault to a Honda engine.
The Australian, who is one of the most talented drivers in Formula One, is out of contract at the end of next year and when asked if a Honda engine would dictate his future, he replied: “Potentially.”
He has driven for Red Bull’s senior team since being promoted from Toro Rosso for the 2014 season, and his current deal runs until the end of next year.
Ricciardo has won five grands prix with Red Bull, including three in his first season as teammate to four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, but Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault has been third-best behind Mercedes and Ferrari in the turbo-hybrid era.
Renault had agreed to supply Red Bull with engines until the end of the 2020 season but is understood to be pulling the plug on the deal two years early.
The move is part of a convoluted arrangement involving several teams and triggered by McLaren, who are expected to announce today that they are abandoning Honda as their engine supplier for next season in favour of one built by Renault. The Honda engine is regarded as the worst on the grid.
“Yeah, they [Honda] obviously need to improve,” Ricciardo, 28, said. “I’m sure there’s reason behind it and, obviously, faith they’re going to get better — and there’s probably some proof in the pudding somewhere — but for sure they’ll need to show up next year.”
As part of the deal, Honda will power Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team who are currently supplied by Renault. Carlos Sainz will also move from Toro Rosso to drive for the Renault Formula One team, replacing Jolyon Palmer, the 26-year-old British driver, from the start of next year.
With Renault no longer supplying Red Bull’s junior team, it appears that they have taken it one step further and are looking to drop the senior team as well. Renault and Red Bull have had a successful partnership, winning four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships between 2010 and 2013, but the relationship has become fractious after sparring between the two as Renault struggled to maintain the pace under the new engine regulations.
Red Bull will be hoping that Honda can improve, as they may be forced to take that engine from the 2019 season. Under the rules a team cannot be left without an engine supplier, but Red Bull would have a tough time arguing that they had no supplier if Renault do drop them, given that Honda supplies the junior team and has made it clear they can supply two teams.
The implications regarding Ricciardo are serious, as he is widely considered a potential world champion and Red Bull will be eager to retain him. In his first season with the team, in 2014, he outperformed Sebastian Vettel, the four-times world champion, finishing 71 points ahead of him in the championship. He was responsible for the team’s only grand prix victory so far this season, in Azerbaijan, and has been on the podium at six of the 13 races, which is impressive for a car that is a distant third on the grid.
Red Bull backed Ricciardo throughout junior single-seaters and he made his F1 debut after being placed at the HRT team midway through the 2011 season.
Max Verstappen, his teammate, could also be looking elsewhere if Red Bull swap to Honda and no improvement to the engine is made. The Dutch teenager has made clear his unhappiness at the Renault engine, which has lacked the power of Mercedes and Ferrari. He is also out of contract at the end of next year and is expected to join one of the two leading teams, with Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, known to be keeping a keen eye on him.
The engine swap deal is also expected to mean Fernando Alonso stays at McLaren, and an announcement on his future is expected imminently. The Woking-based team have been vocal in recent months about their frustration at the Honda engine and it is hoped that a move to Renault will provide them with more time to deal with developing the engine than the politics.