The usual suspects: Who will get Ricciardo's seat at Red Bull?

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With Daniel Ricciardo's exit from Red Bull confirmed, many are casting an eye along the grid looking for likely contenders to fill his race seat in 2019. Here's a look at some of the leading candidates.

Carlos Sainz — On paper, Sainz is the form driver, and should be the leading contender to line-up alongside Verstappen next year. It's ironic, though, that his history with Verstappen could actually count against him. Although Verstappen showed fantastic promise and explosive over-taking potential at Toro Rosso, most critics agree that Sainz was almost his equal on performance. Their squabbles in the Red Bull Jr team could be put aside, with much of the animosity stemming from a desire to be elevated to the "senior" team. With that accomplished, the pairing just might work.

Pierre Gasly — The frenchman will very likely be the front runner, with not only notable performances this season, but experience with Honda powered cars. With the Red Bull Honda partnership still something of an unknown (could it have been the final straw behind Ricciardo's exit?), this unique advantage, and the fact that Red Bull love promoting their youngest stars, will give him an edge on the rest of the field.

Brendon Hartley — The only other driver with experience at the helm of a Red Bull + Honda powered car, yet rumours than Hartley might not even see out the summer would suggest he's not in serious contention. With a senior driver pulled from Red Bull's ranks, it might however mean an extension to his career with Toro Rosso. 

Esteban Ocon — On loan to Force India from Mercedes, Ocon was supposedly lined up for a move to Renault next year, but with Hulkenberg and Ricciardo now confirmed, it appears that ship has sailed. Rumors that Lawrence Stroll could snatch up Force India and, presumably, install his son Lance alongside Sergio Perez, Ocon needs a solid mid-field seat to sustain the momentum he has already achieved in Formula 1. If he shines in the next month or two, and Sainz and Gasly underperform, Toto Wolff might just be making some phone calls.

Kimi Raikkonen — With Charles Leclerc looking certain for a move to Ferrari (although, who really knows anything anymore?) Kimi Raikkonen is presumably free to change teams as he pleases. For the Finn, the most likely course of action will be retirement, unless Haas or Williams decide to pick up the laid-back former world champion, and he decides to grace F1 with his company for a little longer. Red Bull has always instilled the winning culture in their drivers, and prefer to nurture their own talent than recruit from outside, but as Kimi showed when he returned to the team that sacked him, stranger things have happened. 

Lando Norris — Red Bull put in a request for Norris when they were looking for a ringer to fill their Toro Rosso seat last year. They were told the McLaren reserve driver was off-limits at the time, and at best he might be released to drive for the Junior team, with a call-up to Red Bull in his rookie year probably too much of a stretch.

Fernando Alonso — There is no man who has more talent and a less certain future than Alonso. Although his motivation has been tested in recent years, he still out-performs his car most weekends, and surely the hope of one last world title would be tempting enough for him to sit down with Red Bull management to discuss the possibilities. In the short-term, if the Red Bull chassis can compensate for any Honda short-comings, it's possible that a Versteppen-Alonso pairing could provide the fuel for an explosive charge on the constructors' championship, should Mercedes or Ferrari let their foot off the gas. How happy Honda would be about a reunion with their most vocal critic? Well, let's say they'd probably be less than pleased.

Ricciardo's move has triggered a number of reactions in the driver market, just as it did when Vettel announced he was leaving Red Bull to join Ferrari, or Nico Rosberg did when announcing his shock retirement in 2016. Who capitalises, and who sets themselves up for glory beyond 2020 when the new technical regulations are brought in, we shall have to wait patiently and see.

Confirmed: Ricciardo to Renault in 2019

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News is breaking that Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Red Bull and has signed a two-year contract to drive for the Renault Formula 1 season for 2019/20.

Speaking about the move, Ricciardo said:

"It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far. But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge. 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 has been in the sport they eventually won. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track."

A tweet from Red Bull confirmed the initial conjecture that a move was happening.

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In moving to Renault, who currently supply Red Bull with power units, he joins Nico Hulkenberg, giving Red Bull the opportunity to retain Carlos Sainz, who has been on loan to them this season.

On leaving the team that he has been with for the last five years, Christian Horner said: 

“We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and we wish him all the best in his future. We would like to thank him for his dedication and the role he has played since joining the Team in 2014, the highlights of course being the seven wins and the 29 podiums he has achieved so far with us."

Renault's interest in Ricciardo dates back to last year, when a complex arrangement between McLaren, Renault and Toro Rosso saw team switching engine supply and drivers shuffling around. 

What do you think? Is Ricciardo better off switching to the Renault works team, or should he have stayed alongside Verstappen to compete in the Red Bull Honda? 

 

Hungarian GP power rankings

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As races go, the otherwise straightforward Hungarian Grand Prix exploded with action and controversy in the dying laps. As mixed strategies and on-track incidents took shape, the podium remained malleable until the chequered flag fell, and Hamilton toured into the summer break with a lead that seemed like the stuff of dreams only a month ago.

Here's the make or break rankings heading into the summer break...

Moving on up

▲ Daniel Ricciardo shone brightly after expressing some frustration at recent technical failures. With Christian Horner confessing they were targetting P5, and not expecting to finish ahead of any of the Ferrari's or Mercedes', Daniel will happily pocket a few extra points and, unlike his teammate, can head into the summer break in a "holiday mood".

▲ Pierre Gasly qualified in P6 in the wet and remained precisely there in a trouble-free race, but that doesn't dampen his performance whatsoever. In a season where Charles Leclerc is (justifyably) earning plaudits more often than not, Gasly is quietly nipping on the heels of the Force India drivers and is surely putting himself into contention for a senior Red Bull drive should he be required (and Sainz chooses to remain at Renault, or leaves).

▲ Fernando Alonso spends half of this time amongst the Williams and the rest of it fighting for the minor points paying positions. This race it was the later, and his P8 finish is just another example of Fernando out-driving the car and proving his pedigree to any doubters.

Backsliding

▼ Valtteri Bottas had one to forget. Despite finishing in the top 5, after qualifying P2 and holding off Vettel after a dodgy pitstop at Ferrari, his inability to maintain his tyres throughout a difficult race again proved to be his downfall. Add to his ten-second penalty for hitting Daniel Ricciardo and earning two penalty points the fact that Toto Wolff absent-mindedly referred to Valtteri as a great "wing-man" for Hamilton, and he'll be heading into the summer break feeling pretty despondent.

▼ Lance Stroll again limped through the race. Amidst rumors that he could be on his way to Williams if his father bankrolls the team, Lance didn't exactly cover himself in glory by dropping it in qualifying and losing his front wing, and then finishing last of the running cars well behind his teammate.

▼ Renault are coming under scrutiny yet again, particularly from the Red Bull camp who has suffered more than their fair share of retirements as a result of power unit issues. The sadly familiar sight of a Red Bull having to retire not only robbed a primed Hungarian crowd of the spectacle of their boy fighting to mix it with the other top runners.

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German GP power rankings

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What a race, what a crowd, what scenes! Whether cheering on home drivers Sebastian Vettel or Nico Hulkenberg, German-based Mercedes or generally well supported Max Verstappen, a huge capacity crowd was treated to one of Hamilton’s greatest drives. 

Here’s the drivers that are more Ocktoberfest, and others that are more Saukraut. 

Moving on up

▲ Lewis Hamilton achieved something even he has never done before — winning a race after qualifying outside the top ten. Sure Vettel took himself out of contention, and the safety car helped, and team orders played a part, but anyway you slice it Hamilton's victory required a single-minded determination to score the maximum points possible, and with a little help from some friendly nimbus clouds, the Rain King® has resurrected his championship tilt.

▲ Valtteri Bottas performed more than admirably. As disappointing as it might look on paper for him to have started 2nd and finished 2nd behind the guy who started 14th, it was clear that Bottas not only hung on to the back of Vettel throughout the race, pressure that you could arguably say contributed to Vettel's accident. Bottas also clearly had the pace with much fresher tyres to challenge (and most likely pass) Hamilton in the final laps, with his blunted attack being the only blemish on his, or Mercedes' race.

▲ Nico Hulkenberg really brought the wiener to the wiener schnitzel-party in front of his home crowd, leading the midfield (albeit notably slower than the front-runners, even over the relatively short lap of the Hockenheimring). With his teammate dropping out the points after a safety-car indiscretion, Hulk showed that Renault were undeniably the fourth fastest car on the day, a title many are hustling to claim.

Backsliding

▼ Sebastian Vettel ran an almost perfect race until, of-course, he didn't. Nico Rosberg said he could relate to how Vettel was feeling in that moment, having made similar mistakes in the past, in a flash Vettel let his lead in the drivers' championship go, as well as handing the lead in the constructors' championship to Ferrari's main rivals.

▼ Carlos Sainz forgot how safety cars worked and was slapped on the wrist by the stewards for overtaking. Besides being just plain embarrassing, it cost him a points paying position. (And we might be a little sore about penalties affecting our predictions results for the second week running.) 

▼ Sauber's rain strategy ended up shooting them in the foot. Pitting Charles Leclerc early for Intermediate tyres when only a few corners of the track really needed them left him with little grip and needing to pit again for slicks. This dropped from a points paying position to the last of the classified drivers. Needless to say, it was a disappoint result for a driver who has proven he can deliver so much more.

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Tell us your Driver of the Day from the German GP

 

 

British GP power rankings

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A Hamilton victory at Silverstone looked like a sure thing, but a couple of hiccups at the start lead to a supremely entertaining race, albeit off-script.

Here's our power rankings from the final prong of what could be F1's one and only triple header: 

Moving on up

▲ Lewis Hamilton will surely take every Driver of the Day poll there is (hint: scroll down for ours ;p) with his come-from-behind recovery drive for P2 in front of his home crowd. Carrying the hopes of all red-blooded British fans, a poor start left him among the hustle and bustle of the Ferraris, the opening lap incident leading to his only blemish of the weekend—his "interesting tactics" jibe.

▲ Sebastian Vettel charged to the lead off the line after narrowly missing out on pole, and controlled the race until the late safety car(s). Pitting for fresh rubber meant he was always going to be a handful for Bottas to defend against, yet reclaiming the lead was no guarantee.

▲ Kimi Raikkonen (don't stop reading!) might have played the villain in the opening corners, but drove a brilliant race, first trading blows with Verstappen, then pushing to the finish with the top four cars within almost 1.5 secs and anyone in contention for the win. I'm not convinced a junior driver could have performed like this, and it goes some way to justifying Ferrari's decision to keep proven drivers in their cars.

Back-sliding

▼ Romain Grosjean returns to the naughty corner for making contact with his teammate which left both of them with damage that affected their progression through the race, and then coming together with Carlos Sainz, to which the Stewards determined both drivers contributed. 

Sauber's wheel management cost the high-flying Charles Leclerc another solid finish. Whatever is behind this year's plethora of wheel related issues, we need a solution before it winds up deciding a championship.

▼ Toro Rosso showed their shortcomings in the engineering department this week, just barely getting Brendon "Big Heart" Hartley onto the grid, only for him to retire. Asked on the grid about his situation, Hartley suggested the car was still on blocks and might not even start the race, his tone suggesting the team were going through the motions. Not good that they couldn't recover from his FP3 crash in time for the race.

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Tell us your Driver of the Day from the British GP