Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul says Daniel Ricciardo’s arrival from Red Bull last season put the team under a microscope and helped expose what weaknesses still remained after an impressive 2018.
Ricciardo quit Red Bull at the end of 2018 — a season in which the energy drink team finished third in the constructors’ championship — and joined Renault, who came fourth that year and had the ambition of maintaining its position as the leading team in F1’s midfield behind big dogs like Mercedes and Ferrari.
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Ricciardo’s bombshell move placed increased scrutiny on Renault, who now boasted not just one of the most recognisable faces in racing, but in world sport, and someone who made no secret of his desire to win a world title.
With that kind of added attention, Abiteboul said Renault “became naked”.
“For me, 2019 was a year where we became naked with nothing to hide,” Abiteboul exclusively told Motorsport.com.
“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.”
Unfortunately for Renault, Ricciardo’s contribution didn’t automatically translate into better results. The Aussie finished ninth in the drivers’ standings on 54 points — a sizeable 38 points behind eighth-placed Alexander Albon — as the French outfit landed a disappointing fifth in the constructors’ championship, behind fourth-placed McLaren.
Ricciardo started the year with three retirements in the first four races because of mechanical issues, and was sensationally disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix along with teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who lost his drive after an underwhelming campaign that saw him slump to 14th in the drivers’ championship.
The spotlight was always going to be on Ricciardo after his shock defection and with every speed bump, more and more questions were asked about whether Renault was the right fit, and whether it was a mistake to ditch Red Bull.
Car upgrades never gave Renault the boost it needed and Abiteboul said problems that were previously hidden because the team exceeded expectations in recent seasons finally came to light in 2019.
But this was a positive for Renault because it made clear where it needs to improve. Reflecting on the extra “pressure” from Ricciardo’s recruitment, Abiteboul said “it’s actually been a good thing to expose ourselves”.
“I think the problems that we saw were already there from the previous year,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com. “I think the only thing is that they were they were maybe not so visible because (2018) was a progression from the year before.
“I think we needed a year like this one to see the leftover weaknesses of the team, because some of them actually have been here since the Lotus days and have not been dealt with with enough care and attention.”