Former Renault Formula 1 team boss Cyril Abiteboul dubbed Daniel Ricciardo “selfish” for choosing to leave the team after just a single year of partnership.
Ricciardo made the decision to leave Red Bull and join Renault(currently Alpine) in 2018, which was a major win for the Enstone team, which was way behind the leading teams at the time.
However, after Renault dropped to fifth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2019, Ricciardo made the decision to sign a contract with McLaren for the 2020 season, one year before the Covid-19 postponed campaign started.
Speaking on the Dans La Boîte À Gants podcast, Cyril Abiteboul admits that the Australian’s decision to put in just one year of effort into Renault’s F1 project before deciding to move on to new endeavors still angers him.
“He makes his decision in April or May; the world is at a standstill, we don’t know how we’re going to get back on track, if we’re going to get back on track,” Abiteboul began.
“In fact, I think it’s a very early move, a bit selfish, because in the end, it will have given the team just one season’s chance, and so it’s true that it’s a decision that I’m taking badly.”
In response to the question of whether Abiteboul took Ricciardo’s decision to leave Renault for McLaren personally, he said: “Of course, because I can see that it’s a personal rejection.
“I take it completely personally. I accept it and I can see what the consequences are going to be too.”
After Ricciardo joined Renault, the team was unable to move up to the midfield, and Abiteboul acknowledges that the Australian driver found it difficult to adjust to the low performing car.
The Frenchman, who is currently in charge of Hyundai’s Rally program, described the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix as a particularly low point for Ricciardo. In that race, he attempted to overtake a rival but ended up reversing into Daniil Kvyat’s car, which caused him to fall out of the race.
“The team was in the process of structuring itself and getting organised,” he said. “We’re making progress, but that means we’re not at Red Bull’s level.
“He came from the standard environment, Red Bull, and so inevitably there was a feeling of being demoted.
“It was difficult for him psychologically. In 2019, the Baku Grand Prix was absolutely horrendous, with him making mistake after mistake.
“In short, he’s completely out of his depth, and that’s complicated for us.”
Nevertheless, Abiteboul concedes that Ricciardo’s two podium finishes in 2020 was a testament to Renault’s impressive progress which even caught the entire team off guard.
“I didn’t think it would be this difficult in 2019 and, conversely,” the former Renault team principal added. “I didn’t think that in 2020 there would be Covid, a global pandemic that would block us, and during which he would decide to end his contract at the end of the year.
“I obviously don’t see that happening. And I don’t see it happening either that we [would] have such a good year in 2020, all the same, with podiums and a car that once again, by making a few less mistakes, could have finished third in the standings.
“After that, at some point you have to bounce back. And it’s complicated because we issue very cold, very harsh press releases where you can feel the feeling.
“What’s more, Netflix is probably filming the show at the time, so they’re telling it differently afterwards. And the season didn’t turn out at all as we’d imagined, it turned out much better than we’d expected.
“But at the same time, we set out to do something else. We set off on projects, Fernando Alonso signed as Ricciardo’s replacement.
“I’m completely switching to something else, and I don’t think we had the slightest opportunity to discuss whether Ricciardo regretted it, whether we regretted it… In any case, once I’m gone, I’m gone.
“I don’t think he could have imagined the car making such progress, and neither could we. I can also understand his strategy.
“McLaren sold him a bit of a bill of goods to get him, but that’s part of the game. Ricciardo always has a timing problem: he left us too early and he left McLaren too early.”
After leaving his role as head of the Renault team at the end of 2020, Abiteboul feels that Ricciardo’s signing came too soon for the Anglo-French brand.
“I know deep down that it’s too soon, even if we can’t say to him: ‘Come back next year’,” Abiteboul said providing more details about his fruitful attempt to get Ricciardo to sign in 2018.
“That evening, I went to my favourite restaurant in Marseille with my partner and I said to her: ‘Tonight, we toast two things. One, to the fact that we’ve signed Ricciardo, who’s a great driver. Two, to the fact that in two years’ time, I’ll be sacked’
“Because you sign a two-year contract and I knew that this would ultimately highlight the fact that the team wasn’t yet at the required level and that this could potentially be interpreted as a bad decision.
“Once again, today I have mixed feelings, but on the other hand I didn’t screw up my forecasts.”