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today is Feb 04, 2023

“A shitshow… You guys deserved this.” Those were Daniel Ricciardo’s thoughts on his collision with Max Verstappen during the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the year he quit Red Bull.

The Australian admitted the team’s handling of that notorious clash had contributed to his decision to leave. The pair had twice banged wheels throughout the race, before inevitably colliding for a third time on lap 40, wiping out both drivers as Verstappen attempted to pass his team mate into turn one. The team reprimanded both drivers, but Ricciardo was left with a bitter taste in his mouth which seemingly no amount of energy drink could wash down.

Ricciardo had led his new team mate during their first season together at Red Bull in 2016, but it was no secret Verstappen was on an upward trend. The gap narrowed in 2017. By 2018 it seemed Verstappen was increasingly making the team his own as he pursued his dream to become a world champion.

Nonetheless Ricciardo ended his near-three-year stint alongside Verstappen with 457 points compared to his team mate’s 377. Ricciardo took 18 podiums to Verstappen’s 11, with the pair equal on wins with three apiece. But from Verstappen’s history-making start to his Red Bull career by becoming the youngest-ever winning driver on his debut from them it felt as if he, not Ricciardo, represented the team’s future.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2018 Baku clash with Verstappen in 2018 led to Ricciardo’s exit Not long after the Baku clash, Ricciardo made one of the biggest decisions of his life. He left Red Bull, taking a huge gamble by signing for Renault. Four years later, he is heading back to them. It seems the gamble failed, but why?

After initially struggling with the Renault in 2019, Ricciardo finished ninth in the standings with 54 points. More promise came in 2020 when Ricciardo finished fifth in the standings with 119 points. But before that second season even began, Ricciardo had already thrown his lot in with another team.

McLaren made huge strides under new management in 2019. With Carlos Sainz Jnr moving to Ferrari for 2021, a vacancy opened which Ricciardo pounced on, much to the irritation of Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

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He arrived at McLaren off the back of a strong 2020 campaign. But from the outset he simply did not click with their car. He was out-scored by team mate Lando Norris despite leading him home in a one-two finish for the team at Monza.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2018 Ricciardo bid farewell to Red Bull at the end of 2018 That joyous day aside, Ricciardo’s statistics from his spell at McLaren make grim reading. This past season he was out-qualified by his team mate 20 times in 22 grands prix. Norris out-scored him by a massive 85 points.

What was intended to be a three-year deal for Ricciardo was cut to two, leaving him without a drive for the 2023 F1 season. And so, in circumstances which would have been unthinkable four years ago, Ricciardo is on his way back to Red Bull as a ‘third driver’.

Unsurprisingly, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Ricciardo made the wrong decision to leaving the team which invested in him as a youngster and brought him into F1 11 years ago.

“Daniel joined us as a teenager and he grew up with the team here,” said Horner after Ricciardo’s return to Red Bull was announced. “He had some great success here with us, and then he went and did something stupid and went to drive for a couple of other teams and it never quite worked out.”

However despite returning to Red Bull, Ricciardo does not feel his decision to leave was wrong in the first place. “I don’t regret it,” he said in Brazil.

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“People can say ‘his career didn’t work out after Red Bull, he went to Renault, stayed there two years went to McLaren, stayed there two years. I get it from that point of view, it looks like it failed if you will.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2022 McLaren announced Ricciardo’s early exit after Hungarian GP “But I know the way I was feeling that I needed to try and move on. Obviously, I haven’t won world championships since leaving Red Bull. But I feel like for myself and the things I’ve learned and gone through, I still feel better for it.”

He remains certain that he will be in good shape to return if there is a place for him on the grid for the 2024 F1 season.

“There is no guarantees but I truly feel if I was able to land in a top seat I would just be better off. I think I would thrive in that position.

“I probably get a little bit deep in terms of ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I do feel I needed to break away from my shell at the time, even if the results haven’t been what they would have been on paper had I stayed.”

Ricciardo points out that although the 2018 season started well for him, he soon found himself in a downward spiral which motivated his decision to leave.

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“I was watching some season highlights, I had eight or nine DNFs [did not finish], it was a brutal season. Especially the way it started: two wins in the first six races, then it was then kind of a horror season.

Hamilton believes Ricciardo deserves a race seat “Although I was with a great team at the time, the energy inside, I was pretty down. I felt like going back to that moment and how I felt it was the right thing for me to do, even if on paper you can say ‘oh you never should have left’.”

Many are disappointed to see a driver of such obvious ability on sidelines, how tough 2022 campaign notwithstanding. “I think he should be racing personally,” said Lewis Hamilton. “I think he’s far too talented to [be a reserve driver], and he’s earned the right to be amongst us all racing.”

But for the time being Ricciardo’s F1 activities will be confined to the simulator. Is this the beginning of the end for him as a grand prix driver? There’s no guarantee he’ll start another F1 race and he’s taken a type of role usually reserved for aspiring young drivers.

He might have had the opportunity to remain on the grid had he pursued one of the vacancies at Haas or Williams. He has taken the risky course of leaving the grid in an effort to return with a competitive team in 2024. But there is every chance his departure could become permanent. While he is outwardly satisfied with the decisions he’s taken, one could wonder what the 2022 Daniel Ricciardo would tell 2018 Daniel Ricciardo if he could.

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