When Daniel Ricciardo made the tough decision to leave Renault, he found himself asking a key question, one which left him with an answer that it “hurts” him to say.
Back in May it was made official he would be joining McLaren and then team boss Cyril Abiteboul took a shot at the 31-year old without even mentioning his name.
In a statement confirming the switch, Abiteboul emphasised the need for “reciprocated confidence, unity and commitment” in the industry, calling them “critical values.”
He did not explicitly mention Ricciardo but tensions clearly lingered over his decision.
Now in the Netflix docuseries ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’, Ricciardo has revealed the question he asked himself that helped bring clarity to his decision.
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“Can I win with all cars finishing? It still hurts to say this…the reality is no,” he said.
“Deep down I knew I had to leave.”
The fifth episode, titled ‘The End of the Affair’, lifts the lid on Ricciardo’s Renault exit and both his and Abiteboul’s respective dilemmas following the decision.
For Ricciardo, it is grappling with whether it was a risk worth taking while Abiteboul, who openly admits to being a very emotional man, has to move past the bitterness.
“Every single one of us at Renault, our focus is on the stability of the team. Pure focus on this season’s performance,” Abiteboul opens the episode.
“We need to be in a position for podiums and then fight for wins and then fight for championships – but Daniel has put a stop to all of that.”
When the pair cross paths at the season opener, Ricciardo gets minimal recognition from his boss.
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“Is Cyril talking to yet?” Red Bull boss Christian Horner asks in one scene.
“Yeah… yeah,” Ricciardo awkwardly replies.
Horner himself knows too well the dilemma Abiteboul was dealing with given Ricciardo left Red Bull for Renault in the middle of the 2018 season.
“It’s probably a bit like being dumped by a girlfriend but she hasn’t moved out of the house yet,” he said.
“It must be an odd dynamic for Cyril, knowing for the entirety of the season he’s going to their biggest competitor. It is tough.
“You naturally shut down to that individual because they’ve left you. Cyril no doubt took that very personally.”
Abiteboul said he had done his best to not make it personal but admitted: “What’s hurting the most is it’s not the long-term project I thought we signed up for.”
Ricciardo was coming to the end of a two-year deal with Renault and conceded in the episode that “there were a few sleepless nights” behind the eventual decision.
“Last year there was always conversations going with McLaren. I think they made the biggest step out of any team in 2019.
“I did take my age into account. I’m 31. I can’t afford to chance any more seasons. I just felt McLaren was in a better place than Renault was and that’s what drove me to that decision.”
Abiteboul said there was a period of time where the pair did not speak.
“I am emotional,” he said.
“I am Latin. I am a bit Mediterranean and French. So I am emotional. I’m not going to change what I am.
“It’s immensely difficult but it’s really important to leave the emotion on one side. With Daniel and myself, I don’t want to build bridges artificially.”
As he did when Ricciardo’s departure was confirmed, Abiteboul again called out the Australian star’s lack of commitment during the episode.
“Frankly, I think he’s making a mistake,” he said.
“The drivers with the biggest results, biggest success have also been the ones that have been able to take the time and bring stability in their own life, in their own career.
“Right now I have to accept our priority is to believe in the dynamic with Daniel.”
Ricciardo though later in the episode assured: “I’m not just driving around for a paycheck.
“From my side, I 100 per cent want to try get it through to Cyril – McLaren is 2021. I’m not thinking about that now.”
The episode ends with Ricciardo’s brilliant fourth-place finish in a chaotic British Grand Prix, equalling his best-ever result.
It is a turning point – the mood between the pair now seems conciliatory, with Abiteboul even adding: “Here today, after what we have achieved together, maybe all of us are a bit closer.”
There are mixed emotions though, with the then Renault boss admitting that watching Ricciardo and teammate Esteban Ocon (sixth-place) succeed was frustrating.
“One thing I must say, watching Daniel right now, it’s something that’s making me feel the frustration and disappointment,” he said.
“Not just for what we have achieved so far together but also for what he would achieve after that. But he decided to make the decision when he decided to make it with just one year together in such a short horizon of time.
“I am in the process of rebuilding my relationship with him. Even though I have full confidence he will regret his decision.”
There were similar concerns in the F1 world after Ricciardo’s long-awaited podium at the Eifel Grand Prix but he maintained at the time that their improvements did not leave him with second thoughts.
Sitting in a darkened room at the end of the episode though, a frank Ricciardo was not so sure.
“Sitting here today I don’t know if it’s the best call I’ve ever made or not,” he said.
“I’ve obviously in a way taken a bit of a punt. It could swing either way.”
It is a gamble Ricciardo had to make but not one he took lightly either, as the episode wraps up with the 31-year old joking: “I’ll need a whisky.”