Daniel Ricciardo may have “dodged a bullet” by missing out on a drive with misfiring glamour team Ferrari, former F1 star Mark Webber says.
Ricciardo will leave Renault for McLaren next season, after Ferrari opted to replace Sebastian Vettel with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.
Webber believes that McLaren is a step up from Renault, where Ricciardo has never made the podium and suffered an engine failure on the weekend. The Australian will be replaced by dual world champion Fernando Alonso.
Meanwhile, Ferrari is still lagging well behind Mercedes in terms of performance.
“I think it’s a good step. Only Daniel knows all the technical reasons around and environment of why that is going to be a better move for him from Renault,” Webber said on the In the Fast Lane podcast.
“I think the Mercedes engine is something that is attractive to him going to McLaren and Andreas [Seidl], who I know well the new team principal there, too, from Porsche. He is a very organised man and he is putting the team in a very good position now.
“Daniel will be happy looking at McLaren’s performance right now, that’s something that he’ll seek a bit of comfort from, which is great to see. Lando [Norris] has done well in Austria, brilliant drive [to get] on the podium with the fastest lap on the last lap to get Lewis [Hamilton] by a few 10ths I think … so there was great emotion around that.
“So Daniel, I think it is good for McLaren, good for him. I think we all wanted the Ferrari thing to happen but for some reason it still didn’t.
“But maybe he has dodged a bullet with performance, anyway.”
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas won the belated season-opening race in Austria, ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Norris. Vettel was 10th.
Webber said that driving for Ferrari often meant that drivers copped the blame for an underperforming car, with the Scuderia not having won a drivers’ championship since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, while the team’s last constructors’ title was in 2008.
Vettel is a case in point. The German been unable to add to the four world championships he won at Red Bull and now faces a career crossroads after six frustrating seasons with the Italian giant. He has won 14 grands prix for Ferrari, among 53 total victories, while Leclerc won twice in his maiden season with the team.
A genuine world championship challenge has remained elusive, with Hamilton winning the past five drivers’ titles for Mercedes. Webber said that Leclerc’s drive in Austria, amid nine car retirements, couldn’t cover up the gulf between Mercedes and Ferrari.
“If that was a normal green flag race, I think Ferrari still would have got absolutely belted, there is no question about it,” Webber said.
“Mercedes was cruising out the front but the safety flag brought them back into play, had a pit stop with Charles and he drove really well, he definitely squeezed everything out of it as we’ve seen him do in his short career, which is good to see.
“The pressure is on the team. I strongly believe whoever we put in that car for the next six to 12 months, it’s still the performance of Maranello that’s going to be in question, not the drivers’ performance.
“But the Italians love to blame the drivers, we know that.”