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Horner's Biggest Mistake?


Danny Ricciardo's decision to sign for Renault is one of the biggest surprises I have experienced in sixty years of following the sport.

When he phoned to inform Christian Horner, Christian thought that he was joking. After all, Danny had got what he wanted in contractual negotiations. Most drivers want the longest contract they can secure, especially with a top team, Ricciardo wanted just a one year deal so that he could play a role in next year's driver market. Danny knows his worth.

Not only that, but he had video recorded a statement to be released when ink was finally on a contract.

Some have called Danny's move a mistake and among them is Jolyon Palmer, who spent two years with Renault and who is now a pundit with BBC radio. To my mind, the person who has made the mistake is Christian Horner.

Danny has used Renault engines for each of his seven wins and he must know the guys there very well. Unlike Horner, Ricciardo has not muddied the water by blaming Renault. More, Danny knows how much Renault have advanced - their engines have given him seven wins and do not fail as often in their own chassis as they do in Red Bull's. One has to ask whether there are issues with Red Bull's installation.

Though Red Bull is a top team it is still a customer team whereas Renault is a works outfit which is in the sport to shift metal from showrooms. By securing Ricciardo, Renault has weakened Honda's thrust with Red Bull which begins next season. Honda cannot be best pleased about that because it will be making a substantial financial input to RBR and must have assumed that Red Bull would be fielding two Grand Prix winners.

Renault has also signed a driver with no other loyalties. Esteban Ocon must have been considered, he being French, but Esteban would have come courtesy of Mercedes, just as Sainz has been courtesy of Red Bull. Ricciardo is unencumbered.

As well as being a star on the track, Danny is one off the track. I have yet to hear anyone say a negative thing about the man. He is sponsorship gold dust in every market whereas Max Verstappen is big only in Belgium and der Nederlands. To many non-partisans, Max comes across as gifted, but also as a spoiled brat.

By contrast, Danny is an asset to any sponsor because millions of us like him. He is mighty in a car and he passes the most basic test of likeability: you would buy him a beer in a pub.

According to one newspaper report, Danny is to receive £20 million a year from Renault and that must have played a part in the negotiations.

Red Bull Racing signed Max Verstappen for a huge salary on a long contract thus promoting him to be team leader. That told Danny that Max was seen as the team's long-term future, while Mr Ricciardo had to fit in when, or if, it was convenient.

Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive championships with RBR when Ferrari came a-courting in 2014. Der Wunderkind was able to squirm out of his Red Bull contract due to a clause that allowed him release if the team failed to provide him with a competitive car.

It was common wisdom that the Renault powertrain was the least competitive of the three but, with the same equipment, Ricciardo won three races and out-qualified Vettel from Russia on. In 2014, racing on equal terms, Ricciardo scored three wins to Vettel's zero, and was 3rd in the Championship with 238 points while Vettel was fifth on 167.

Vettel went into whinge mode, his default setting, while Ricciardo got on with the job and produced some epic drives while winning an army of fans.

Alas, on-track achievement is not now the only measure and it would appear that Christian Horner is persuaded by other things, notably performance on a simulator. In these days of limited on-track testing, the arcade game on steroids has become very important.

In terms of speed on the track, the simulator was not wrong about Max, which promoted him from Toro Rosso, but it had no program which would predict or measure Max's bratishness. When Danny is lining up to overtake a rival, I relax and prepare to enjoy a move that is likely to be both clinical and audacious. Ricciardo really is the last of the late brakers and he is wonderful to watch.

When it is Verstappen, you never know whether you are going to see a breath-taking move or a walk back to the pits with invective and accusations.

As Ron Dennis once said, in a different context, the ability of a driver to overtake is surprisingly rare.

By making Verstappen team leader on a salary way out of line with his actual achievements, Red Bull was taking Ricciardo for granted and that is something you should never do in a relationship. Danny is to go and that means a seat to fill long before RBR expected. I bet Christian Horner did not expect to have to consult Verstappen on who to sign for 2019.

It would seem, though it has been denied, that Max is not keen on Carlos Sainz, from when they were team-mates at Toro Rosso. It appears that Max is prepared to screw Carlos's career on a whim.

This suggests to me a lack of confidence and leadership abilities because it is rare for a top driver to object to a team-mate. The Number One does not have to balance the books or devise race strategy, what he has to do is to drive his Nomex socks off.

Christian Horner made a huge mistake in making Max Verstappen team leader and we can see how big a mistake that was because he has lost Danny Ricciardo, RBR's actual star driver. Horner is supposed to be an arch-strategist, but he did not see how much Renault would win if they lured the one proven winner who was free of contract.

McLaren would have given Danny a mega-salary as well and Horner apparently did not see that either. It is the reputation of Christian Horner which has taken the biggest knock. He is now the man who lost Danny Ricciardo and who is now learning what a loss that is.

Danny is a seven-time winner and there is not even a one-time winner free of contract. To put Danny into perspective, Keke Rosberg, the 1982 World Champion, won only five Grands Prix in his entire career.

Nico Hulkenberg, Danny's future team-mate, has effectively been demoted by the newcomer, but he has been admirably upbeat. He is unlikely to be on anywhere near Ricciardo's salary, but for him the signing shows the seriousness of Renault's intentions which is good for the Hulk as well. For Nico it is a chance to pit himself against a GP winner in equal equipment.

As we broke for the 2018 summer hols, Nico was 7th in the standings, the best position of a driver outside of the top three teams. After 147 races, Nico has yet to score a podium, but he must believe that he is better than that. From next year he will have an opportunity to prove it during every qualifying session.

Compare Hulkenberg's response to that of Verstappen who, it is rumoured, does not want Carlos Sainz in the same team. You can almost pity whoever RBR signs to a seat which would be much more attractive were it not for the team leader.

Mike Lawrence.

Learn more about Mike and check out his previous features, here



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1. Posted by Stitch431, 01/02/2019 19:27

"Although it will only be clear when the season is already a couple of races underway, my feeling is that Daniel took the wrong decision. It feels like he has seen that Max is slightly faster and still learning, so he chose not to say in the same team. Imagine how his market value would drop if he had to live through another year of being beaten by his teammate. It is a gamble and he might be so lucky that Renault has seen the light and suddenly produces a race winning motor. However, he will have his hands full on Nico, which is a fight he has not won yet. Worst case would be if the Renault is still not as good, and he would lose the fight with the Hulk. Then again, although by the sound of it Honda has found some good progress, it is just as possible that they do not live up to the expectations. On the matter of Carlos being blocked by Max, that was a rumor first spread by Marca, that Spanish newspaper often used by the Sainz clan to spread exactly this kind of rubbish, as a tool in the political games behind the scenes. I do not believe these to be true as Carlos himself has stated in an interview later on. Conclusion. No matter how we feel it is when the flag drops, that the bullshit stops. Let the season begin!"

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2. Posted by Roland, 27/10/2018 3:12

"You don't shake Mateschitz hand on a deal and back-out a couple a days later. If Renault doesn't supply Daniel a winning car; he will be done. Rumors at Ferrari's top executives condemned Daniel as not trustworthy. "

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 06/09/2018 9:32

"...let’s hope Renault do come good over the next two seasons. They do know how to win... yet the Newey factor is immense... I do hope Daniel has made a great call... but as colleagues of mine remind me... Hope is not a strategy... it could go all Yertle Turtle on either Max or Daniel. The beauty of a linear time line in real life is that we sit back and wait... and we shall have the result unfold before us... (Yertle Turtle was King of all he could see - great lesson for all F1 Bosses from Dr Seuss...) "

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4. Posted by Tardis40, 05/09/2018 19:28

"I don't see Ricciardo as anything to write home about. Verstappen on the other hand is and he is also maturing quickly. "

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5. Posted by Roland, 02/09/2018 18:56

"Daniel got himself into a hole, like Fernando, with the difference Fernando has two WDC under his belt. Do you believe that for future reference Mercedes or Ferrari will have any confidence in a man who shakes Mateschitz hand confirming having a deal and than backs-out a couple of days later. I don't have a magic crystal to see the future, hence, if Renault was that good in this era for sure there lack of reliability and power deficit is not a testimonial of progress. The Red Bull chassis has saved the game for them; Abiteboul nearly begged Marko & Horner to continue their business relationship. Today the spec 3 PU underlines their progress with a statement from Abiteboul spec 3 would be good for .3 a joke to say the least."

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6. Posted by airman1, 02/09/2018 11:17

"A masterful case-study where a smart man outsmart what Mr. Horner?"

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7. Posted by Kallie61 , 19/08/2018 6:45

"Great article, the voice of reason at last. Just hope it pays of for Daniel and wish him lots of luck."

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 17/08/2018 12:16 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 18/08/2018 12:01)

"@ Mike Lawrence
Excellent & analytical as always.
If as Mr Editor Balfe reports you are losing interest in the "Sport" your piece exemplifies why that might be.
I tend to agree that the key to RBR's PU unreliability has something to do with the design of the car and the packaging of the PU."

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9. Posted by hydro, 16/08/2018 4:51 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 18/08/2018 12:01)

"This comment was removed by an administrator as it was judged to have broken the site's posting rules and etiquette."

Rating: Positive (3)

10. Posted by CH94th1, 16/08/2018 0:09

"One last thought. Messrs. Carey and Bratches would do well to read Chris Balfe's comment. Even Ross Brawn, a man that I have long admired, seems to have started sucking from the corporate teat.
When I saw the display at Austin last year with the perma-tanned Mr. Buffer, shouting his lungs out like a Barnum and Bailey's ringmaster, I could help but listen as to if I could I could hear the bells in the background softly tolling the imminent demise of Formula 1.
Woe betide us all in 2021."

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11. Posted by CH94th1, 15/08/2018 23:55

"At long last, the voice voice of reason has returned to Pitpass. Welcome back Dr. Lawrence.
Talk about hitting the nail on the head, but here is a man who can incisively cut straight through the BS and get to the core of the situation.
His erudite view of the World of RBR and the players therein resulted in a composition that no one can argue with. Ricciardo's move to Renault must serve as a slap in the face to the key players at RBR, and Max in particular.I find it unthinkable that Max has to be consulted as to who takes Danny's place, and, if he has the power of veto over the likes of Sainz Jnr., then shame on Red Bull.
Max' continual whining about Renault must have been a PR disaster, and if the rumours about RBR receiving an inferior product to the Renault team have any credence, the Max must surely shoulder some of the responsibility.
Yes, I have concerns about Danny's move, but history tells us that it may be very canny. People doubted the move of the 'pseudo Rock 'n Roll Legend' Hamilton when he moved to Mercedes, but that seemed to have worked out well for all concerned.
Ricciardo is a gifted driver, as Dr. Mike points out, and should Renault get it's act together in 2019 or 2020, then who knows how well he can do. He certainly has both the ability and the necessary charisma to be a World Champion and has managed to resist piercing his appendages and wearing twenty pounds of gold around his neck. He would make a fine World Champion and deserves that title.
I echo the rest of the posts on this feature. Well done Dr. Lawrence, another mini masterpiece, concise and to the point.
Also, not a chipmunk in sight!"

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12. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 15/08/2018 17:21 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 18/08/2018 12:01)

"A nice, concise piece. What always amazes me about Horner, and the Red Bull senior management is that, as hard as I try, I can never see the strings they are pulling his limbs and mouth with (must be F1-grade carbon strands). I have always thought, since the team's inception that anything/everything he says has been planted by either Marko or Mateschitz. It would be interesting to see if his comments are actually is own, or those of "HMV"... but I really hope that this move will enable Ricciardo to stick the finger up at RBR for their blinkered vision"

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13. Posted by ESTMPRFT, 14/08/2018 23:21

"Here Here, Mike - Spot on!"

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14. Posted by Jezzer, 14/08/2018 18:34

"Welcome back Dr Lawrence. As always a well written piece and one that has me jumping up and shouting in agreement.

I see a similarity between Decca records and EMI with the signing of The Beatles all those years ago (google it youngsters). Christian Horner is the new Dick Rowe......what a huge mistake!

The editors comment about your lack of articles being due to losing interest in the sport reflect my feelings towards the current state of affairs. My love affair with F1 started in 1968 when the cars looked different, sounded absolutely awesome and most of the drivers had big personalities and even bigger balls. "

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15. Posted by Uffen, 13/08/2018 20:59

"Wonderful article, Mike. I sincerely hope that Danny's move pays off in spades."

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