Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo will end his long career with Red Bull and join Renault in a two-year contract next season, news that surprised Formula One on Friday.
The start, which is known at a time when it looked like the 29-year-old would still be at Red Bull next season, is likely to trigger further paddock moves.
“This was probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made in my entire career,” Ricciardo said in a statement issued by Renault. “But I thought it was time to take on a new challenge.”
Ricciardo wanted to sign a two-year agreement to keep up with the best drivers, including four-time world champions Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, who also have contracts until 2020.
The Australian, who won two races this season, had been linked by the media to Renault and McLaren, but both teams were considered risky options for a title-hungry driver.
“We fully respect Daniel’s decision to leave Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and wish him well in his future,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who will now have to find a replacement for the Australian to accompany young Dutchman Max Verstappen.
“We want to thank him for his dedication and the role he has played since joining the team in 2014, and most importantly, of course, the seven wins and 29 podiums he has achieved so far with us,” he added.
Ricciardo’s contract was ending this year, but any hope of joining Mercedes disappeared when the team renewed the contracts of Hamilton and Finnish Valtteri Bottas.