Boss reveals unavoidable Ricciardo impact
RENAULT team principal Cyril Abiteboul is hoping a nightmare 2019 is behind the outfit after a massive season of change.
The team was "the best of the rest" in 2018, finishing as the only team outside Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull to tally more than 100 points.
But despite nabbing the signature of Aussie star Daniel Ricciardo to partner long-time driver Nico Hulkenberg, the wheels seemed to fall off last year.
Twelve months later and Hulkenberg has been moved on, with former Force India driver Esteban Ocon taking his seat for 2020.
While Renault fell to only fifth, it relinquished the "best of the rest" tag to a resurgent McLaren, while Toro Rosso was just six points behind in sixth in the constructors' standings.
In an interview with Motorsport.com, Abiteboul said Ocon should help the team and admitted Renault had learned plenty from being ill-prepared for the attention that came with signing a driver of Ricciardo's profile.
"I think it's slightly different. He's still in the construction phase. First, he's coming back to racing, which is good news," Abiteboul said of Ocon.
"Hopefully he will have a better car than the one he had last time he drove (with Force India), so it's a positive dynamic for us when a lot of people attribute our bad 2019 season to the decision with Daniel, and his season with us, as more of a negative dynamic."
Abiteboul didn't blame Ricciardo for anything, but said the West Australian put extra pressure on Renault.
"I can see more positive things spinning out of Esteban. It's not that Daniel was negative, because I praise what Daniel has pushed the team to do," Abiteboul said.
"But he put pressure on the team with the expectations he created in the media sphere by joining the team. It's what we wanted, but de facto, he create a huge amount of expectation, way above what we promised.
"And by doing that it has led to a reaction from the team when we saw we were not at the required level."
Ricciardo was positive throughout last season but knew he wouldn't necessarily be looking at podiums in 2019.
Much of the talk in the early part of the season was about "closing the gap" on the big three teams, but Renault wasn't able to achieve that goal as Ricciardo finished ninth in the drivers' championship - his worst personal finish since he was promoted to Red Bull in 2014.
While Ricciardo has continually said he doesn't regret the move to leave Red Bull for Renault, the Aussie star has made no secret of the fact he wants to win a world championship.
That mindset has increased speculation he's not going to be at Renault for much longer if the team can't make significant improvements.
Speaking to Perth's The Sunday Times last month, Ricciardo predicted an impending grid shake-up as drivers come off contract would be "seismic".
"I haven't committed any more than the end of next year," Ricciardo said.
"That's not anything personal, it's just we haven't had any discussion about beyond 2020 yet. It's still early days.
"I would love for 2020 to work out and I stay, that's the easiest and happiest scenario, I wish for that.
"As far as 2021 goes and that musical chairs, so to speak, I think F1 could get a real shake-up.
"Pretty much every driver is out of contract so from a fan perspective I think that is going to be pretty exciting to see how it all shapes out."
Ricciardo has also told F1.com that 2019 had been a difficult season.
"I expected it, I didn't expect it to be easy so yes, I expected some hurdles, some challenges. I don't know what I expected but I hoped for better results than we've had, more consistently," Ricciardo said.
"We've had some big results but I didn't expect some bigger results than the fourth place that we got in Monza … but our worst results were worse than I hoped."
Abiteboul spoke to Motorsport.com earlier this month, saying Renault became more exposed than ever following Ricciardo's arrival.
"For me, 2019 was a year where we became naked with nothing to hide," Abiteboul said.
"With great drivers and a much better engine, there was nowhere to hide. But you know, that's F1.
"You can't hide in F1. And because we were not hiding, we've been able to again to see what action we have to take."
Abiteboul admitted Renault's car was still a work in progress but said Ocon should help give the team a renewed push.
"It's another dynamic," Abiteboul told Motorsport.com. "He will push us in a different way, a new energy, a new aggression, in my opinion a fully positive one, coming also with a different set of experiences, having worked with Mercedes.
"So it's good, but at the end of the day we can do lots of things with drivers, but what needs to be better is obviously the racing car."