Renault’s last gamble to keep Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo has opened up on his uncertain future with Renault, revealing how the French team can convince him to stay.
With most of the biggest stars of the Formula 1 grid heading into a year of contract negotiations, Ricciardo's long-term future is up in the air after Renault has failed to make up any ground on grid leaders Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Coming off contract at the end of the 2020 season, the 30-year-old is facing a dilemma of keeping faith with his French team or pursuing a possible move to one of the teams that have consistently outperformed his Renault Sport outfit this year.
With Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas all coming off contract at the end of 2020 also, anything is possible.
Ricciardo has now admitted in an interview with the BBC that he has not yet been convinced to stay at Renault after the team's chassis and reliability issues this season.
He says he needs the team to show him performance improvements before he would even think of committing to the team beyond 2020.
"So next year, what would I need to see?" Ricciardo says of Renault in the interview.
"Obviously improvements - not just from one position to the next, but solid improvements that actually we could realistically fight for a podium at some point next year. That would be very encouraging and motivating for everyone.
"I know we're still a long way off that but I still believe it's in reach. I don't think we're dreamers; we just have to clean up a few things. I still look back at Canada - if we can qualify fourth at the seventh race of the season, I still believe anything's possible with these guys."
He says in an ideal world Renault will deliver performance improvements early next year, convincing him to stay.
"Do I want to stay? Yes, because ideally we do get this to the next level," Ricciardo said.
"It was my massive intention to come here. My intention wasn't to have a two-year layover somewhere else. I know people might still think that, but I really want this to work. I feel like the hours I have put in this year have shown I have the drive to want to do so."
Not everyone is as confident in the direction Renault is heading in. It's why the Aussie racer has repeatedly been linked with a possible move to Ferrari in the future, pending Vettel's possible retirement.
The BBC's chief F1 writer Andrew Benson describes Renault's big off-season ss and downforce development project to be the key to the team's hopes of challgening the likes of Mercedes - and their hopes of retaining star driver Ricciardo.
With the Aussie finishing ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg in 10 of the 14 qualifying sessions this year, Renault has already made the ruthless decision not to extend the contract of the German driver.
After signing Mercedes young gun Esteban Ocon, who is just 22, on a two-year deal from 2020, Renault's early signing committment is being interpreted by some as a way for the team to prepare itself for Ricciardo's potential move to another team at the end of next year.
It makes Renaults' chassis development for the 2020 season even more important.
The report claims Renault is undergoing a major review into its aerodynamics and downforce philosophy, starting from scratch, rather than try to make improvements on its 2019 model.
The gamble to rebuild the entire Renault Sport aerodynamic model is where the team hopes to eat into the advantages enjoyed by Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
If the aerodynamics re-build fails to deliver performance upgrades next year, the report claims Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul fears Ricciardo will look for another team.
When asked if he suspects Abiteboul is nervous about him wanting to leave the team, the Aussie said: "He's thinking probably: 'If it doesn't go [better], why would Daniel want to stay?'"
"That's probably where his head's at and that's probably where those comments come from.
"It's him just being brutally honest with himself and wanting to do better and wanting the team to do better - to basically keep me and any other assets."
With Renault's power unit delivering clear performance boosts in the second half of the 2019 season Renault has shown glimpses of its potential.
Ricciardo finished fourth at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month in his best result at Renault. However, his Renault Sport reliability issues mean that he has scored points in just four of the 14 grands prix this year.
The nightmares of his team's early season struggles will be hard to forget when it comes time for him to decide on his next contract.
He admits thinking during the Australain Grand Prix in June where he finished 12th that "this is now where we should be".
"I am literally driving around - I don't want to say not present - but my thoughts were: 'I don't want to be here,'" he said.
"When I say that, I mean I don't want to be in this position. I was 14th or something and it was one of our worst weekends. But it wasn't a head-down defeat, it was: 'Get me back to the front - this is not where I should be. This is not where we should be.'
Renault has less than 12 months to convince him otherwise.