Renault open to shock Ferrari driver swap
Daniel Ricciardo's Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has left the door wide open for the French team to sign Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel if Daniel Ricciardo walks out.
Speculation surrounding the Aussie driver's future is already heating up as he enters the final year of his contract with Renault.
Constantly linked with a dream move to Ferrari, Ricciardo has repeatedly declared his preference is to stay with Renault if the team can provide a strong package for him to challenge the top teams this year.
Abiteboul on Wednesday also declared the Perth product is emotionally invested in his project with Renault and believes the Aussie is far from certain to want out at the end of the 2020 season.
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However, with Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas all coming off contract this year, some of the most coveted seats in Formula 1 could become available.
Ricciardo's next decision looms as a key domino in Formula 1's silly season as the drivers begin to jostle for contracts beyond 2021.
Abiteboul has told French TV channel Canal+ his team would leave the door open for Vettel should Ricciardo move on.
He also says the team would strongly consider promoting one of its drivers from the Renault driver academy.
"I don't want to say no because he's a great driver. He's a great champion, we worked together on the engine side, and we won together. But I'm maybe more inspired to work with the drivers of tomorrow than yesterday," Abiteboul said on his contingency plans for a potential life without the 30-year-old driver.
"It's very harsh to sum it up like that, so please don't sum it up like that to Sebastian.
"We also have an academy of drivers. We've got drivers who will maybe be ready in 2021 or 2022, so we've also got to have that mind."
However, Abiteboul spoke confidently of his team's hopes of retaining the former Red Bull driver.
He admits it is crucial that his team show progress in the first few races of the season in order to convince Ricciardo to stay.
"I think we need to see how the first few races go," Abiteboul said.
"Have we made a step? Have we gained in confidence compared to last year? Is Daniel himself continuing to better integrate himself within the team? And if we feel that we have a project that can last, why not?
"He will obviously be someone who's very much courted [by other teams].
"I worry that things will go quickly, and so we need to be very alert to not lose opportunities [to keep him].
"I think Daniel is… very attached to his decision to go to Renault - which was heavily criticised, notably by certain parts of the British press who didn't understand it.
"I think this idea to build a project which comprises the human, technical and sporting sides is something close to his heart. He's someone who is guided by his emotions and I think he wants to show that he can be true to his choice. He wants to show that his choice [to sign for Renault] was a good choice."
Ricciardo awkwardly side-stepped a question about his desire to join powerhouse Ferrari during pre-season testing, where he finished as the third quickest driver on the grid.
Renault won't get a chance to prove to Ricciardo that he could compete for a championship with the team until the Dutch Grand Prix in May after the Bahrain, Vietnamese and Chinese Grands Prix all suspended their races following the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.