LONDON • Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo will join the Renault Formula One team next season after agreeing a two-year deal, the French manufacturer said in a statement yesterday.
The surprise switch came after his current employers Red Bull had announced earlier in the day that the 29-year-old would be leaving them at the end of this year.
"It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far," said Ricciardo, who made his F1 debut with the short-lived HRT outfit in 2011 and drove for Red Bull's sister team Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013. "But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge."
He moved to the flagship Red Bull team in 2014, replacing his compatriot Mark Webber who retired, and has won seven races and recorded 29 podium finishes. He finished third in the drivers' standings in 2014 and 2016.
Ricciardo won the Monaco and the Chinese Grands Prix this season and is currently fifth in the drivers' standings.
He added: "I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level. But I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault have been in the sport, they eventually won."
Renault's managing director Cyril Abiteboul said: "Daniel's undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible."
Two-time champions Renault are one place behind Red Bull in the constructors' standings, but they have only 82 points while third-place Red Bull have 223. Renault have not won a race since rejoining F1 three years ago.
"We fully respect Daniel's decision to leave... and we wish him all the best in his future," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
"We will now continue to evaluate the numerous options available to us before deciding on which driver partners Max Verstappen for the 2019 season."
There was speculation that Ricciardo did not get the assurances he craved from Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, wrote British newspaper the Daily Mail.
It added that the Perth native felt unloved by Red Bull after they made Dutchman Verstappen their de facto No. 1 driver by rewarding him with a massively improved deal last season. Ricciardo would have been out of contract at the end of the year and was assessing his options, but any hope of joining champions Mercedes disappeared when they retained title holder Lewis Hamilton and Finn Valtteri Bottas.
Glamour team Ferrari have shown no obvious interest either, with Sauber's Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen if the 38-year-old 2007 world champion is dropped.
The extroverted Ricciardo, a fan favourite with his permanent smile and thrilling overtakes, had indicated before this month's break that he was set to stay at third-placed Red Bull and was just "fine-tuning" details.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE