Ricciardo signed for McLaren last month in the slipstream of Ferrari announcing that Sebastian Vettel would not be staying on in 2021, and that he would be replaced by Carlos Sainz. That opened a vacancy at McLaren that Ricciardo immediately filled.
Some observers have questioned why the Australian didn’t wait and at least see how the 2020 formbook looked rather than committing to a move so far in advance.
However Ricciardo says that even once the delayed season started he wouldn’t have had clear answers for a month or two, and thus there was no point in delaying his decision.
“I think obviously Vettel’s announcement or news with Ferrari kind of sparked everything,” Ricciardo told the F1 podcast. “And then things were moving pretty quickly around Carlos and all the other stuff.
“Although it seemed like there was maybe still time, I don’t actually think there was, to make movement, if that was what you were going for.
“This is all just what I’m playing in my head – if you start racing in July, which even then wasn’t 100%, but which we are by the looks of it, you’re not going to find out in the first race or the second race.
“You’re probably going to wait until August or maybe September until you really know where everyone’s at, and then I think it felt like it was going to be too late to get something you were after.”
Ricciardo admitted that it wasn’t a clear cut decision to leave Renault for McLaren, and he had to based it on a combination of 2019 form and the unknown potential of next year’s Mercedes-powered package.
“Obviously the reality is you get pitches from whichever team is talking to you, and to some extent, especially now without having any races and any kind of proof other than last year, you have to go on what pitch excites you more than the other. You’re going with what you feel and think at the time. Who knows?
“Obviously if I go back to last year, which is our best reference for now, they were the team that made the most noise.
“Mercedes won the championship again, but it was quite clear to most that McLaren was the team which made the biggest step out of all. That was really encouraging for them, and that’s really all you can base it on.
“And then the pitch for the future. Obviously they are switching power units and all that. Even talking about it now it’s certainly tough, because by no means was it an easy decision, and not having very much to gauge from 2020, that was pretty difficult.”
Asked what was the key to his choice he added: “I’ll be honest, there wasn’t one deciding factor.
“It was certainly different to the Red Bull situation [in 2018]. I feel like Red Bull had run its course for me, personally, I’d been there a long time, we’d tried and tried, and we’d won races, but not the championship.
“So then it was, ‘OK, I just need a change.’ This one I wouldn’t say it was as clear, as far as yes we didn’t achieve what we wanted last year, but equally I wasn’t expecting to win last year. Let’s say it was by no means an easy one, and time will tell.”