It’s part 3 of our review of F1’s 2019 teammate battles and we are looking at Renault and customer team McLaren. Renault new boy Daniel Ricciardo lines up against Nico Hulkenberg while it is all change at McLaren as Carlos Sainz takes on McLaren protege and 2018 F2 runner-up Lando Norris.
Daniel Ricciardo – Renault F1
2019 is where the rubber meets the road for Ricciardo. The Australian is Renault’s big money signing hired to take them back to the F1 podium. In turn the 7-time Grand Prix winner is keeping his fingers crossed that a works drive will be a quicker route to an F1 title than sticking with ‘customer’ Red Bull Racing.
Ricciardo is – currently – rated as world champion material but to maintain that belief, he needs to blow Nico Hulkenberg away. ‘Hulk’ was once – much like Ricciardo current is – held in high regard but has been relegated to something around ‘good but not a great’. Failure to beat him consistently might tar Ricciardo with the same brush.
It will not be enough for Ricciardo just to bring his race craft and late-braking brilliance to Renault. He needs to be the inspirational, team-building leader that pushes, cajoles and badgers Renault back into direct competition with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Nico Hulkenberg – Renault F1
The plan for Nico Hulkenberg is much the same; he too must blow his teammate away. Sadly the reward for that will be to simply maintain the ‘good but not a great’ perception. Despite the word that spread from Red Bull – after Ricciardo had jumped ship – that Verstappen had become both faster and a better racer, Ricciardo is a high benchmark for the German.
Hulkenberg therefore has a prime opportunity to prove his many doubters wrong. Equally, if Renault achieve their ambition of joining Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull as regular contenders for race wins, Hulk needs to put a case forward for Renault being ‘his’ team and not Ricciardo’s. Just because Renault currently believe Ricciardo is the man to push them to the front of the grid there is no reason it has to be like that.
Carlos Sainz – McLaren
Sainz believes he is good enough to win races in F1 and not to be too blunt, this is his last chance. Failure at McLaren would mark the beginning of the end for the Spaniard who has now been passed over by both Red Bull and Renault for ‘team leader’ roles. It is a long shot of course given McLaren’s slow but comprehensive fall from grace but the first item on the agenda is putting rookie Lando Norris in his place.
Unlike his hero Fernando Alonso, Sainz needs to do what his predecessor failed to when he was partnered with McLaren’s then rising star. Stamping his authority on the team will require a comprehensive demolition of Norris in terms of both pace and racecraft. Otherwise he could easily face an overwhelming wave of team support and enthusiasm for the F2 runner-up as their new talisman, especially if the team can produce a better car than the MCL33 and start believing again.
2019 is a big season for Sainz where he can either prove Red Bull and Renault wrong or start the end of his F1 career.
Lando Norris – McLaren
Of the two British rookies on the 2019 F1 grid – Williams’ George Russell being the other – Norris has the tougher but ultimately more rewarding intra-team battle. While compatriot Russell will have to battle doubts over Robert Kubica’s true pace, Norris faces a known but definitely beatable quantity in Sainz.
Qualifying was the 19-year-old’s weakness in F2 last year but his race craft and overtaking was inspired at times. His Spanish teammate is no slouch over one lap but equally he is no Lewis Hamilton. If Norris can stay close to Sainz in qualifying, there will be all to play for on Sunday afternoon’s and there is every reason to think the rookie could seriously upset the de facto McLaren team leader.