Daniel Ricciardo raised eyebrows in 2018 when he decided to leave Red Bull for the faltering Renault team.
Red Bull were not the ominous force then that they are now, but Ricciardo still won two races in 2018 with the team. His decision to depart for a Renault team that was struggling to consistently score points was a risky one, to put it mildly.
Four years on, Christian Horner has spoken about Ricciardo's decision to leave the team. Red Bull boss Horner said that Ricciardo turned down a massive offer to stay with the team in 2018, and called his decision to leave "spectacularly bad timing".
Daniel Ricciardo: Red Bull team boss slams Aussie's decision to leave team in 2018
2018 was a strange time in the career of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian won in both Shanghai and Monaco, with two of the best drives of his career.
How insane were these overtakes @danielricciardo made on his way to winning the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix? 🤯
China, we can't wait to be back for more racing soon! 🙌#ChineseGP 🇨🇳 #F1 pic.twitter.com/ICdedXUGfr
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 6, 2021
His car was on the end of some woeful reliability struggles, however. Ricciardo was forced to retire from an incredible eight races in 2018. Despite not finishing a race lower than sixth all season, he would ultimately finish 79 points behind teammate Max Verstappen in the championship.
Having spent three years as Red Bull's team leader, he found himself sinking into the shadows of an up-and-coming Verstappen.
Despite starting the 2018 season poorly, with crucial mistakes in Australia, China, and Monaco, Verstappen was still treated as the team leader at Red Bull. The threat of becoming a number two driver, along with frustrations with the reliability of his car, led Ricciardo to depart the team at the end of the season.
Speaking to the Telegraph in Australia on Friday, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner questioned that decision from Ricciardo. Horner said that the sum offered to the Honey Badger in his new contract was enormous, and suggested that Ricciardo only left the team because he did not want to play wingman to Verstappen.
We put offers in front of him that were stratospheric. Daniel could see Max in the ascendancy and he didn't want to become the second driver.
His timing was spectacularly bad because he had doubts about Honda's engine. Then Honda went on to prove it was a competitive power unit and a race winning package.
Horner's comments seem to confirm that Red Bull saw Verstappen as their number one driver for the future in 2018. They would appear to be justified, given that the Dutchman claimed Red Bull's first driver title since 2013 just last year.
For Ricciardo, it hasn't been quite as rosy. As his former team have returned to world championship winning form, he has struggled for inconsistency as he hops between teams.
The Australian spent two years with Renault, with his second season in 2020 sitting among the finest of his career so far. He took two brilliant podiums at the Nurburgring and Imola, the team's first in over five years. He would go on to claim fifth place in the drivers' championship - ahead of Red Bull's second driver, Alexander Albon.
That fantastic 2020 season, however, was sandwiched by two mediocre seasons. 2019 with Renault was a largely anonymous year for Ricciardo, while 2021 brought significant struggles in the new environment of McLaren. Ricciardo did take a memorable eighth race win at Monza last year, but he was dominated by his younger teammate Lando Norris throughout the season.
Given the systems in place at Red Bull, it's hard to imagine the team would have allowed Daniel Ricciardo to have continued challenging Max Verstappen for the ascendancy at the team.
The departure from Red Bull in 2018 was ultimately a fair call for Ricciardo to make but, given the team has returned to world championship winning material, he will likely look back on it with regret in years to come.