Daniel Ricciardo had no other option but to leave.
Daniel Ricciardo had no other option but to leave.

Exposed: Red Bull forced Dan out

OPINION

IN THE end, the decision was made for him.

Too many missed opportunities and too many blunders that were - too often - not of his own doing meant Daniel Ricciardo had no choice but to leave Red Bull.

The Aussie announced his split from the team overnight, revealing he'll drive for Renault next season. At first it came as a shock but the reality is, staying put would have been the far bigger sin - and Red Bull only has itself to blame for pushing him out.

For a team widely considered to boast the most talented line-up on the grid in Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, Red Bull has failed to come anywhere near fulfilling its potential.

In 2018 it sits well behind top dogs Ferrari and Mercedes in third in the constructors' championship. It was the same story last year when the energy drink team finished a distant third, watching on from behind while Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel duked it out for the Silver Arrows and Scuderia.

Those men are both four-time world champions - Ricciardo is yet to even finish in the top two of a title race. Everyone knows he's got the talent to be the world's best but he's never had the car to prove it.

It must burn his seeing drivers he knows he can match streak ahead of him because their equipment is superior - a burn that intensifies with every retirement, engine failure and tactical balls-up.

Ricciardo has repeatedly said all he wants is a world title. At 29 he's in the prime of his career and the window for the ultimate glory won't stay open for long. Unfortunately, Red Bull has shown it can't deliver him what he wants.

Red Bull hasn’t been able to give Ricciardo what he wants.
Red Bull hasn’t been able to give Ricciardo what he wants.

It hasn't always been Red Bull's fault, though, it must be said. A strained relationship with engine supplier Renault has provided plenty of dramas and the team accepted long ago its power units simply can't match those of Mercedes and Ferrari.

Verstappen, who retired from last weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix with a power unit failure, was fed up with suffering the same problems over and over.

"Mate, really? Can I not just keep going? I don't care if this f***ing engine blows up," Verstappen said on the team radio. "What a f***ing joke, all the f***ing time. Honestly. Argh."

He was backed up by his boss Christian Horner after the red mist subsided. "We pay multi-millions of pounds for these engines and for first class, or state-of-the-art product, and you can see it's quite clearly some way below that," Horner said.

Earlier this year Red Bull announced it was severing ties with Renault and partnering with Honda in 2019 - but that was too little, too late for Ricciardo.

He could have hung around with the English-based outfit to see how big a difference Honda engines made to his title ambitions, but that ran the risk of losing more time in his racing life if the new addition failed to deliver.

Better to take a risk and start afresh than stay put and hope for the best when there's every chance you could be let down again by someone who's let you down so often in the past.

Ricciardo has retired four times in 12 races this year because of one collision and problems with his battery, gearbox and engine. Last year he failed to finish six times - the most painful coming right at the start when he barely got off the grid at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne because of a power unit failure.

Then there were the times his own team let him down. Who could forget the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix when Ricciardo, on course for a stunning victory, fell victim to a bungled pitstop that cost him the win.

In isolation, these incidents can be blamed on bad luck and other parties. But together, they paint the grim picture that Ricciardo simply can't win a world title with Red Bull.

It's a shame because the team has shown it's capable of doing just that. Vettel won four straight crowns with Red Bull from 2010-2013 but it fell off the pace once Ricciardo came on board full-time in 2014.

He must have been hoping for so much after joining what was then an F1 powerhouse but Mercedes and Ferrari have dominated the sport since. Frankly, it's hard to see light at the end of the tunnel for Red Bull, even with a switch to Honda next year.

That Red Bull has put most of its eggs in Max Verstappen's basket - signing the young gun to a lucrative deal that keeps him there until the end of 2021 - has been raised as a reason why Ricciardo walked away.

Horner has said there's no favouritism at play but when someone nine years your junior - touted by everyone in the sport as a world champion in waiting - is on a bigger pay packet, it's easy to feel slighted.

Jostling for plaudits and points with Verstappen may well be a contributing factor in Ricciardo's decision to join Renault, but the Honey Badger isn't in this game for money and reputational bragging rights - he's in it to win, and from what we've seen, he can't do that with Red Bull.

His stint at Renault may go bust but that won't make Ricciardo's decision this weekend the wrong one. It would be sad to see him drift further down the championship pecking order next year, but it would be far sadder to see him stay at Red Bull and tread water.