Villeneuve: Almost half of Ricciardo’s F1 career was bad

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Jacques Villeneuve pulled no punches when summarising Daniel Ricciardo’s career, pointing out that the McLaren driver’s career went bad after he ditched Red Bull.

At the time it was a shock decision that rocked F1, Red Bull in particular who had Max Verstappen and Ricciardo penned in long-term for the team.

But the Australian felt Red Bull had become Team Verstappen and playing second fiddle was not his style. Hence, when Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul popped up with $50-million for two years he snapped at it.

But Renault was not a winning team in 2019 and still aren’t (as Alpine) these days, and Red Bull were winning then and still are.

When asked on F1TV if Riciardo would be in F1 next year, the 1997 F1 World Champion first chimed in with his own question: “Why would he be?”

Followed by the Villeneuve reality check: “He had two terrible years at Renault and two even more terrible years at McLaren. That’s four years. Almost half of his Formula 1 career was bad.

“Alpine have no reason to take him, especially when he’s driven there before. The modern cars just don’t seem to suit his driving style.

“He was impressive at Red Bull. He showed amazing overtaking manoeuvres. He was ahead of Max at the beginning. But in the end, Max started to get a handle on him.

“Then he switched. And after the switch, something seems to have happened that he never managed to get a handle on. He never recovered from that.”

Why would Alpine or any F1 team want Ricciardo in his current form?

Ricciardo bad says Villeneuve

Villeneuve was referencing suggestions Ricciardo may return to the French team, now rebranded Alpine after McLaren paid him out to the tune of $10-million to $25-million depending on who you believe, to depart one year early, after a relentless pounding from young Lando Norris, to make way for fellow Aussie, 21-year-old much hyped and highly rated Oscar Piastri.

Williams is also an option as is Haas for Ricciardo, albeit with either backmarker team it would be a further step down the grid for the 33-year-old’s career, but his shares are at such a low in the F1 paddock at the moment, it has to be asked: What F1 team wants him?

Apparently, Mercedes do as a reserve, but Lewis Hamilton warned Dan that the wait would be long if he had designs on the #44 car anytime soon, which triggered talk of a sabbatical, a bad idea thinks Villeneuve.

“It could make him lazy,” ventured the Canadian, before elaborating. “You can take a year off if you’re an Alonso, a Schumacher, if you’ve been F1 world champion and won a lot of races if you know in the paddock that you’ll always be at your best, no matter what season. After four bad years, don’t do that.

“You take what you can get. If you have an offer to drive in F1, then you take any cockpit. In public, you will say you don’t want to drive for one of the back teams, but if that’s the only contract you can get, then you’ll sign it,” added Villeneuve.

Villeneuve exacgerated the percentage of how bad Ricciardo’s F1 career has been

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It’s a harsh assessment because it’s more like a third of Ricciardo’s career has been bad, the last third, and not half as was stated. But the message is clear and also hard to fault, statistically speaking at least.

In his five years with Red Bull which began at his home race, the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, Ricciardo drove exactly 100 races for Dietrich Mateshitz’s senior team. He first did two seasons with Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013 before promotion the the ‘senior’ team alongside four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

Later when Vettel departed after Ricciardo beat him in 2014, Daniil Kvyat had a spell as his teammate until Max Verstappen got the keys to the Red Bull for his debut at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, alongside Ricciardo.

During that period, Dan scored all three of his F1 career pole positions in an Adrian Newey penned car, celebrated 29 times on the F1 podium, seven times as a Grand Prix winner.

Since his departure, pickings have been far slimmer for Ricciardo, his CV shows that one fortuitous win at Monza last year and two podiums with Renault are all he mustered in the 76 F1 starts he made since he left Red Bull at the end of 2018.