Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko says he is struggling to understand why Daniel Ricciardo opted to leave the team for Renault.
With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, Ricciardo was keeping his options open while there were seats available at Mercedes and Ferrari. However, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being retained, and Ferrari expected to stick with Kimi Raikkonen alongside Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo finalized talks with Red Bull ahead of the summer break before then opting to join Renault on a two-year contract.
“I cannot understand the change,” Marko told Red Bull’s Servus TV. “That was a very strange story. The negotiations were difficult. On Wednesday before the Austrian Grand Prix, I sat together with him for two hours and we agreed [terms]. Then during the Grand Prix weekend there were some improvements for him.
“In Hungary, he said to both me and Mr. [Dietrich] Mateschitz that everything fits, and that he will sign on Tuesday at the test. He did not do that. On Thursday afternoon I got a call. He was so funny in the voice. I told him: ‘Get to the point! We are adults.’
“Then he said: ‘I’m going to Renault.’
“I can only assume that he does not believe in the Honda project and that Renault offered him a very high amount. But I think more shoeys will be hard for him in the near future.”
While surprised by Ricciardo’s decision, Marko admits the Australian will be a loss for Red Bull given his performances in race situations, even if he feels Max Verstappen has had the edge in qualifying in recent rounds.
“He was with Red Bull for a total of ten years including the junior time. He probably needed a change of scene. I can understand if he thinks the grass is greener somewhere else.
“On the other hand, it is a pity too. He was certainly one of the strongest drivers in the race. His overtaking maneuvers were just great. The opponents have sometimes not even noticed that they are getting overtaken. But in qualifying, he has not come along with Max recently.”
And Marko is confident Renault will be no match for Red Bull next season even with the change of power unit supplier to Honda.
“We have a different approach with Honda than McLaren — they more or less dictated to Honda what the engine should look like and where the components must be placed. We simply said that they should build the best engine available, and we will try somehow to accommodate it in the chassis.
“We discuss everything together. The Japanese have realized that they have made mistakes. There was a change of staff and they got advice from experts. This year’s form of Toro Rosso clearly shows that things are going up. I’m sure we’ll be ahead of Renault next year.”