Daniel Ricciardo’s 10th place finish at the Turkish Grand Prix may have been a bit of a blip, but the Aussie star is enjoying one of his best seasons in years in Formula One.
In the final week off of the season before the last three events close out the condensed 17-race world championship, Ricciardo and Renault’s relationship is coming to an end with the Aussie joining McLaren next season.
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After a horror first season with Renault, Ricciardo has enjoyed a resurgent 2020 season, finishing with points in 11 of the 14 races so far, including two podiums at historic F1 venues Nurburgring and Imola.
It’s been a welcome return to form for Ricciardo, who potentially on track for his best season since he finished third in the championship in the 2016 season with Red Bull.
While his 10th placed finish in Turkey dropped Ricciardo to sixth in the championship from fourth as Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc made up points, the Aussie remains just four points out of fourth spot with the final three races still to come.
But those three races will also be his final ones in a Renault with the move to McLaren, who are moving to Mercedes engines next season, locked in before the delayed start of the F1 season.
Ricciardo has consistently said he doesn’t regret having signed with McLaren but Renault sporting director Alan Permane revealed the esteem Renault hold the 31-year-old despite his move.
Speaking on the Beyond The Grid podcast, Permane said Ricciardo was in the top four of the sport, along with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
“I’m only speaking from what I see, [which is] the same as everyone else sees – okay, I’ve seen a little bit more of Daniel but there’s him, there’s Lewis, there’s Charles and there’s Max. I think those four are a different level,” said Permane on the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“In and out of the car, you don’t meet many who are pretty much spot-on both ways. Daniel has done a great job in building a very strong team around him in terms of engineering, his mechanics and the people in the garage.”
Permane said young teammate Esteban Ocon is learning from the Aussie but if Renault had its way, they would convince Ricciardo to backflip on McLaren.
“Pre-COVID, when he would come to the factory and the whole team would be gathered in the race shop, you could tell there’s just love from everyone for him,” Permane said. “And I tell him every week it’s not too late to change his mind. Seriously, I do.
“Of course, it’s tongue-in-cheek and I know he can’t change his mind, and he doesn’t even pretend to say he would even consider it out of respect to his new team and all that.
“But who knows, if this had been a normal season and people weren’t making their minds up about team changes before we had even really turned a wheel, who knows where we would be now?”
Ricciardo’s departure has opened the opportunity for Renault to welcome back two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
While Renault would have liked to hold on to Ricciardo, he admitted the season had been the most rewarding since the 2016 season.
“My enjoyment is really high at the moment, I’m loving racing, and I think that was also heightened from the kind of lockdown and missing the competition for longer off-season,” Ricciardo said.
“So having it taken away I think made my desire to come back obviously a lot a lot stronger.
“And yes, it’s been cool, and you’re probably right, 2016 was a really good year I remember with Red Bull, so this is probably the best, or the most satisfying, since then.”
Ricciardo had been through the ringer since then, departing Red Bull after eight retirements in his final season with the team.
In 2019, Renault struggled with Ricciardo ninth in the championship and the team going from the “best of the rest” to being well behind McLaren.
Despite the shortened season, Ricciardo already has more points than the team earned last year, and are in a four-way dogfight with Racing Point, McLaren and Ferrari, as all the teams are separated by 24 points.
“I think the last year (2018) at Red Bull was emotionally the most tough, because the start of the year it looked like maybe I was bidding for a world championship, and then mid-year I realised that I wanted to move on, and then towards the end of the year it was DNF after DNF,” Ricciardo said.
“So there were a lot of emotions that year, so to this day I think that was the most tough year for me emotionally, and how it played with me a little bit.
“Last year it was still fun, even though we didn’t really get the results we were after, it was still fun to try and build with a new team.
“This year it’s definitely been more fun, because that building has delivered some really good results.”