‘Touch wood he can get out of it’
MARK Webber believes Daniel Ricciardo may be "regretting" his high-profile move from Red Bull to Renault.
Ricciardo replaced Webber at the Milton Keynes team from 2014, and won seven races with the senior Red Bull squad before he announced a two-year deal with Renault from 2019.
However, the marriage with the French team is yet to bear fruit for Ricciardo, with the Renault package failing to claw back any deficit to the big three teams.
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One of the big three, Red Bull, was where Ricciardo had called home for five seasons. However, his shock move to Renault proved the Australian believes he can win an elusive world championship outside the likes of his former team.
While cautiously optimistic on Renault's chances, Ricciardo signed the two-year deal confident Renault could rise up the grid and challenge for podiums.
However, that may have to wait until 2020 at least, with Renault falling behind customer team McLaren this season, with Ricciardo taking just five points finishes from 15 races in 2019.
Conversely, Red Bull has found a new lease of life with Honda power units in 2019 after ending a bitter long-term relationship with Renault, with Max Verstappen holding down third in the drivers' standings.
With youth framing a big part of F1's future - with current Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg to be replaced by Esteban Ocon next season - Ricciardo doesn't have time to toil with an uncompetitive car.
Webber acknowledged the potential regret for Ricciardo, who will be 31 when his current Renault contract expires.
"He was at Red Bull, I wish he stayed there because it is a better package," Webber said.
Obviously there were some financial terms but Red Bull weren't far off his [contract] numbers anyway.
"He could be regretting that two-year phase now, but he's gotta get back out of [regret] now.
"Young guys come in and the landscape changes really fast in two years. You think, 'yeah, I'm cool, I've got a bit of time'. Next minute, people come along.
"Touch wood, he can get out of it."
Webber's retirement from F1 at the end of 2013 opened the door to Ricciardo's promotion from Toro Rosso, with Webber on the receiving end of four straight drivers' titles for Sebastian Vettel.
Webber and Vettel had high-profile moments of acrimony, but ultimately the German (who now drives for Ferrari) had the wood over his older teammate, something Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted.
"It was very difficult for Mark to accept at the time that, and I think if he looked back at it now with perspective and honesty, Sebastian was just quicker," Horner said last year.
Ricciardo and Verstappen were fairly evenly matched in their time together at Red Bull. However, a spate of retirements for the Aussie, coupled with Verstappen's late-2018 resurgence, ensured Ricciardo's departure left questions to be answered over whether he was "running from a fight" - a statement Horner also had no qualms in making.
Ricciardo admitted earlier in the season that Renault were searching for confidence as the team fell away from its fourth-place expectations. However, while the RS19 may have proved to be a volatile package, incidents in Melbourne, Baku and last weekend in Singapore ensured Ricciardo isn't fully absolved of blame for underwhelming results.
Webber - who is now an expert commentator for the UK's Channel 4 - believes Ricciardo is one of the "best drivers", but suggested the end result has as much to do with driver as it is with car.
"It's a highly technical sport. It's not like tennis or golf, or league or union, or probably AFL," Webber said.
"It's a really big individual sport. You have to stand up and be accountable.
"250 nights in hotels, you've got to really apply yourself travelling around the world, but you have 800 people in the team. You're part of a big operation in a huge technical sport.
"Yes, there are a lot of moving parts, but when the car's not delivering, obviously you're part of that equation."