Horner: I thought Daniel was winding me up

The more you think about the more you realise that Daniel Ricciardo deciding to ditch Red Bull for Renault on a two-year deal was a shocker – the F1 news of the year so far – and his boss Christian Horner admits he thought the big smiling Australian was joking when he phoned to tell him the news.

Speaking on an official F1 website podcast, Horner revealed, “I thought he was winding me up to be honest with you. He rang me to say I’m going to Renault.”

“I said: You what? Is this a wind-up for the summer holidays? But it then became very clear that was his choice and you have to respect that. Renault are a growing team, they’re committing resource there.”

“I think Daniel decided after a long flight to America, he decided he wanted a change. You look at the rational reasons for that, it’s difficult to understand, but Daniel obviously had his reasons.”

One of the big reasons was no doubt that Red Bull showed their commitment to Max Verstappen when they signed him up until the end of 2020 last October, suggesting at the time that the team were putting their efforts behind the Dutchman, they were banking on him for the future.

Horner explained, “I think it comes back to wanting to take on, in his words, a new challenge but I also feel he sees Max growing and growing in terms of speed and strength and he doesn’t want to play a support role I guess, for want of a better word, not that they are treated in any way differently.”

At the same time and despite their commitment to Verstappen, Red Bull were keen to keep Ricciardo in the team. Verstappen is still growing as a driver, while the Aussie was their pillar of strength and stability within the team.

The Red Bull chief insisted, “They would have equal status, as they have always had. I could understand if it was to Ferrari or Mercedes, but it’s an enormous risk at this stage of his career.”

“It’s been a bit like trying to convince a girl to go out with you, but she’s being pretty reticent. We have bent over backwards to make it happen, but if someone’s heart isn’t really in it, then…”

“We gave Daniel everything he wanted and asked for and it still wasn’t enough. We were even prepared to do a one-year agreement so he was available to Ferrari or Mercedes should they come knocking in 12 months’ time.”

“It wasn’t about money or status, commitment or duration. I think he felt: I need to take something else on in this stage of my career. It might be an inspired choice, it might one that he regrets,” concluded Horner.

The record books will show that Red Bull financed Ricciardo’s Formula 1 debut with HRT at the 2011 British Grand Prix. He did 11 races with the now defunct team that season before he was promoted to Toro Rosso.

He made 39 starts with the Red Bull junior team before stepping up to the senior outfit alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2013. Since then Ricciardo has made 91 starts for the team scoring 29 podiums of which seven were victories.