RENAULT team boss Cyril Abiteboul says his team’s first nibble from Daniel Ricciardo was a “bad joke”. Then Red Bull botched its contract talks. RED Bull made a fatal error in its contract negotiations with star Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul says. The Renault team principal has revealed his team’s pursuit of Ricciardo began with a “bad joke” — but the door was blown wide open for his team to secure the out-of-contract driver’s signature when Red Bull attempted to pressure the 29-year-old into signing before the mid-season break. In an interview with France’s Canal Plus, Abiteboul said he first joked with Ricciardo about moving to Renault last year — when Red Bull star Max Verstappen was signed to an upgraded deal. Verstappen’s new contract left Ricciardo as the sport’s most in-demand star off-contract at the end of 2018.
In the eyes of most commentators, Renault was nowhere near the front of the pecking order of teams trying to court the Australian. Ricciardo then went on to shock the F1 world with his decision to bet on Renault developing into a Formula 1 power down the track when he signed a two-year deal with the French team. Abiteboul told the French TV broadcaster that his team’s negotiations benefited from Red Bull’s attempt to force Ricciardo into a decision on their terms. “Our conversations actually started as a bad joke,” Abiteboul said. “We asked him, ‘What if you were driving more than just the Renault engine (which Red Bull uses in its RB14 car). “Gradually the conversations became more serious. The deal has always been in his hands, since we knew we were asking a pretty difficult question to him. That is not a decision that you want to impose on someone.”
The Renault boss says that was the crucial mistake Red Bull made. “I also think that that is exactly why Daniel did not sign up with Red Bull,” he said. “He was constantly pushed there, in my opinion right from the Australian Grand Prix, to put pen to paper. “We were a lot more humble and I think he really appreciated that.” He said Renault’s power unit supply deal with Red Bull actually gave the French an avenue to court Ricciardo and build a relationship. Ricciardo’s relationship with Red Bull has been clouded in recent months since his announcement that he will leave the England-based team at the end of this season. He has struggled for engine reliability and has been generally out-performed by Verstappen at recent grands prix. Horner has also been forced to deny Verstappen has received preferential treatment within the Red Bull garage since Ricciardo announced his decision to leave.
He told Sky Sports in Japan Ricciardo continues to receive equal treatment with Verstappen because of his ability to help develop the Red Bull cars for 2019. “No, not at all. The emphasis is on getting the best out of both guys,” Horner said. “At each Grand Prix weekend they get the same opportunity. It’s down to what they do on the track at the end of the day. That will continue to be the case right through until Abu Dhabi. “We’re looking to learn as much as we can. Daniel still gives us extremely good and accurate feedback. There’s no difference in the way that parts are being allocated.”