There have been plenty of reasons given by Renault and Red Bull about why Daniel Ricciardo decided to move to the French outfit.
If you ask Red Bull boss Christian Horner, Ricciardo is running scared from a battle with Max Verstappen, while Ricciardo himself has said he wanted a new challenge after five years as an F1 driver with the energy drink team.
You could even make arguments for money or personality fit — along with a host of other reasons.
Speaking at the Kayo Sports launch of the Australian Grand Prix and V8 Supercars Melbourne 400, 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill had a simple explanation for why he thought Ricciardo didn’t want to stick around at Red Bull.
“I think he’s not prepared to be a number two and I don’t blame him,” Hill told www.3nrs3.cn.
Ricciardo’s move into the great unknown of Renault, a former powerhouse trying to bring back the glory days, seemed to many like a backwards step. The 29-year-old was a driver with one of the big three teams choosing to partner with the “best of the rest”.
Ricciardo and Renault have been cautious in their predictions for the season-opening grand prix in Melbourne and for the year ahead, but Hill said Renault has plenty to look forward to if pre-season testing in Barcelona is any guide.
“It’s early days but testing indicates that they may have made some significant steps forward, both on the car and their power units. I think they could be stronger than last year which would be good,” Hill said.
“The ground on the big three is a huge step. There was almost a two tier championship last year with the two big teams, even the three big teams — Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes — being significantly quicker.
“I think from what I’ve read and what I’ve learned from the analysts who have been down watching testing, Renault could well have filled that gap between the also-rans and the front running pack. So they could be on the heels of Red Bull.
“It would definitely make it interesting and that’s what we like about this sport. You can’t ever say anything’s set in stone. It all shifts and changes and you just need some clever people to see an opportunity with the design of the car and things change pretty quickly.”
Testing in Barcelona late last month threw up interesting results as the drivers had their first real hit outs in their new cars, which were fitted with the new front wing design teams had to adopt.
It has also reignited the battle between Renault and Red Bull. Red Bull dumped Renault’s power unit for Honda after several mechanical issues in 2018, while Ricciardo jumped over to Renault.
Now seen as the number one star for Red Bull, Verstappen will take the lead at the team. At 21-years-old, Verstappen’s best days are still ahead of him, a reason Hill identified as a key to Red Bull putting its resources behind the Dutchman rather than Ricciardo.
“I think when a talent is spotted in this sport, and you had it with Michael Schumacher, you had it with Lewis Hamilton, you had it with Ayrton Senna, every now and then a guy turns up and he’s so blindingly good that they’ll do anything to keep that guy in that team because deals that are needed to draw in the best of everything else often revolve around the driver,” Hill said.
“The driver is a very key component and if they are that talented then people will look to the future. Don’t forget he’s only 21. Max Verstappen is a lot younger than Daniel Ricciardo.
“Ricciardo is not old by any stretch of the imagination but he’s at the other side of that age so when you’re looking at the next 10 years …
“Max has nine years on Danny, so that’s nine years of regulation changes and sponsors’ worth that Max has got over Daniel Ricciardo. It’s a hard fact of life but you’ve got to be the shiny new star right at the beginning.”
Hill was a ruthless competitor on the track and challenged Michael Schumacher in his early rise to prominence. The pair even had a brutal battle in the Australian Grand Prix in 1994 with a crash handing Schumacher his first drivers’ championship when he drove for Bennetton before his move to the team he became synonymous with, Ferrari.
Hill saw Schumacher up close, finishing second in both of the German legend’s first two championships before Hill snapped the streak with a dominant championship victory in 1996 with Williams.
Twenty-five years later and Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ championships, one many thought would be too dominant to chase, is under threat from Lewis Hamilton, who finished last season with his fifth title.
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Hill said Hamilton’s rise proved his name would be remembered as a legend of the sport.
“I think he’s (Hamilton) exceptional and I think we’re distracted sometimes by his fashion antics and sometimes by his attitude towards life can sometimes make him look like he’s not the serious racing driver he really is,” Hill said.
“He’s right up there. I think you can utter his name in the same breath as the (Juan Manuel) Fangios and the (Jim) Clarks now, he’s one of the legends of the sport.
“Michael Schumacher obviously had his own style and they’re quite different in the way they approach their racing but Michael stands up there on seven world titles.
“Lewis has done bloody well to get up there on five and everyone would mostly be pretty pleased with five. I think he’s trying to enjoy it now and he might get seven or he might not.”