Days after Vettel’s May 12 announcement, Carlos Sainz Jr. was signed to replace the German and, when the music stopped, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was set to take the 25-year-old Spaniard’s seat at McLaren in 2021.
In an interview with CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies, Ricciardo says he’d been having ongoing talks with Ferrari up until the decision to join McLaren. Throughout his career the 30-year-old Australian has continually been linked with a move to the Italian team.
“There have been discussions already from a few years back. And that continued all the way through to now,” said Ricciardo. “So yeah, I won’t deny that. But obviously it’s never really come to fruition.”
Both of Ricciardo’s parents are of Italian descent. His father was born in Italy and his Australian mother was born to Italian parents. But he’s not sure why he has never joined the Maranello-based team.
“I don’t know actually and I’ve never really chose to dive too deep into it. Everyone says it would be a good fit, obviously, with my name and all the background stuff, but yeah, I try not to get emotionally caught up in any kind of situation.
“I see how Carlos is a fit for the team. So I don’t really look at it like ‘why not me?’ I just look at it: Yeah, Carlos had a very strong 2019. Yeah, he’s a bit of hot property right now, and I guess it’s a good fit for where they are at.”
Move to McLaren
The coronavirus pandemic means these moves for next season have been finalized before a race has even taken place in 2020.
Ricciardo’s one full season with Renault last year was his worst F1 performance in six years, as the team finished fifth in the constructors’ championship standings, 54 points behind fourth-place McLaren.
In his first interview since his multi-year agreement with McLaren was confirmed, the Australian said he “put a lot of thought” into the switch.
“I guess no decision is ever black and white. And I can’t actually give you a black and white answer. There wasn’t any moment, which was like a light bulb and said, ‘Yes, that’s what I need to do.’ Equally, there wasn’t something I saw in McLaren, which created that or there wasn’t something in Renault, which created the moment of ‘I have to move on.’
“The discussions with McLaren go back to even before, I guess, 2018, and I guess continued over time.
“Obviously it’s not an overnight decision. I guess to compare as well the two I don’t think that’s fair.”
Before joining Renault, Ricciardo spent six years with Red Bull, including one season in 2014 with Vettel.
Considering the series of incidents between Vettel and Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc last season, Ricciardo says he wasn’t surprised the four-time world champion parted ways with the Italian team.
“I don’t want to say the writing was on the wall, but a few of those incidents made this news slightly less traumatic.”
Ricciardo not only thinks the 32-year-old German wants to continue in the sport but also hopes he does.
“If I know him well enough, I believe he’s still hungry and competitive enough to want to continue.
“Also, because he’s still older than me. So it makes me not the oldest guy,” quipped Ricciardo.
“I like Seb. Obviously, I had him as a teammate, but as a competitor he brings something to our sport.
“He’s one of the very few if not the only one that isn’t active on social media, and he’s one of the most successful people ever in our sport, yet he’s one of the most private. And even that in itself brings a lot of mystery behind him.”
Living on the farm
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ricciardo has been living on the family farm in Perth, Australia, surrounded by sheep, cows and alpacas.
While he calls the quarantine “bizarre,” the 30-year-old has also embraced the slower pace of life and believes it has allowed him to refocus on his goals.
“I still see myself being a very strong competitor for many years to come and I am getting older, but I still feel like there’s a lot of fire in me that just wants to compete again.
“I think that’s been fueled more than anything. Yeah, because it gets pretty lonely out on the farm, which is nice, but I’ll be honest, I miss the spotlight and the limelight and the chaos of F1 and the competition. I want that again, very soon.”
Returning to action in Austria
If the altered F1 schedule holds, Ricciardo should get that feeling again on July 5, when the sport plans to start a shortened season with the Austrian Grand Prix.
“It’s going to be interesting to see in Austria where everyone stands and who’s kind of blazing out of the box and who might be a little bit rusty.
“I have obviously a lot of confidence in the field. We’re obviously all experienced and professional. I do expect some [nerves], probably over excitement.
“What that equates to I don’t know, whether it could equate to amazing overtakes and a crazy race or it could mean a chaotic kind of first lap of the race, you’re going to get a mixture of emotions for sure.”
For public health reasons, no fans are expected to attend the first F1 race weekend in 2020. But despite what will surely be a lack of atmosphere, Ricciardo is looking forward to returning.
“Obviously I miss it. I miss it dearly. On the weekend it was two years since my last podium. Personally, I’m craving that feeling.
“When I signed with Renault the objective, I think by year two, was to get a podium and that’s something I still very much want to do. And I do believe that can be done. So yeah, that would be a nice little send-off for everyone involved.
“I certainly know that I still owe a lot to Renault and I want to do that, not only for myself, but for them. And after the news, it was actually really nice. I received a lot of positive feedback from people in the team.
“And I know that they’re excited for me to fulfill the rest of the year with them, try and do as best as possible and hopefully win as many races as possible.”