Daniel Ricciardo was back on a Formula 1 podium for the first time in two years in Germany last weekend, and it was the first time since Renault’s return to the sport in 2016 that it was there too.
Ricciardo was predicted to have a tight battle with his young teammate Esteban Ocon this season, but it has been extremely one-sided so far, with Ricciardo leading the way 10-1 in qualifying.
Although Joylon Palmer believes Esteban Ocon has “potential”, he feels the new Renault signing isn’t “stacking up well” against Daniel Ricciardo.
11 races into this season and Ricciard is up in fourth place in the Drivers’ standings on 78 points while his team-mate has less than half, 36.
15 of Ricciardo’s points were scored at the Eifel Grand Prix when the Aussie bagged Renault’s first podium as a works team since 2011.
Ocon retired from the race, undone by an engine issue.
But while that wasn’t his fault, the Frenchman was by no means on a par with Ricciardo during the grand prix, nor has he been all season.
Although Palmer reckons he hasn’t been “particularly poor”, he is being shown up by his Aussie team-mate.
The former F1 driver wrote in his latest BBC Sport column: “As for Ricciardo, he has been brilliant in 2020 and is making Ocon look quite average right now on his return to a full-time drive.
“Ocon is a young driver of good potential – and showed it alongside Sergio Perez at Force India in 2017 and 2018 – but he simply isn’t stacking up well against Ricciardo, which is a mark of how consistently well the Australian is performing this season.
“In 11 attempts, Ocon has out-qualified Ricciardo only once – in the wet session in round two in Austria. And although he was only a fraction behind Ricciardo in qualifying at the Nurburgring, Ocon carries close to a 0.2secs deficit on average over the season so far.
“But it’s actually the races where the difference is bigger.
“In that Styrian Grand Prix where Ocon qualified ahead, it wasn’t long before Ricciardo was crawling over the back of the Frenchman and eventually came through. And in Sochi, the race before Nurburgring, Ricciardo passed Ocon after a poor start, and eventually pulled ahead by a full 26 seconds.
“It’s not to say Ocon’s been particularly poor. He has had moments of promise, and more reliability issues than Ricciardo, and he’s new to the team after a season on the sidelines.
“But I’m sure even Renault will be surprised at how Ricciardo is outperforming their new signing. He’s is in the best form he’s been in for a while, and this year he can actually finish in a higher championship position than he managed in his final two seasons at Red Bull.”
Sunday’s result put Renault up onto 114 points, two behind McLaren and six adrift of Racing Point in the battle for third place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Palmer, who previously raced for Renault, says the signs are very encouraging.
“Overall this year, Renault are bang on their usual batting average, in fifth place out of the 10 teams in the standings with six races to go,” he said.
“But actually there are now signs of real progress, and they have more than just a trophy and some champagne to celebrate after Ricciardo’s result on Sunday.
“They finally look to be making strides towards the front, and this result has been on the cards for some time. Since bringing upgrades to the car at Silverstone, Ricciardo has been a second-row qualifier, and a fastest lap setter in addition to those three fourth places.
“These are just rewards for the effort and progress Renault have made from a disappointing 2019, and it was great to see the smiles on the faces of my former colleagues under the podium on Sunday.
“This feels like an opportunity for the team to move forward, rather than rest on the laurels of a breakthrough podium.
“Ricciardo has vaulted up to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, and while Renault are still fifth in the constructors’, they are only six points off third-placed Racing Point and clearly now have a faster car.
“In fact, taking an average of qualifying performance over the races since the Spanish Grand Prix back in mid-August, the Renault is the third fastest car on the grid, behind only Mercedes and Red Bull.
“Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo’s young team-mate, has had a few reliability woes so far, but Renault will be hoping he can find a bit more form as well to match Ricciardo and add more points to Renault’s championship aspirations.”
Palmer reckons this season is shaping up for Renault and Ricciardo to go for best of the rest, benefitting from Alex Albon’s troubles and Ferrari’s fall from grace.
“With Ferrari floundering horribly this year, best of the rest for the teams has become third place instead of the usual fourth,” he said. “And with Alex Albon struggling in the Red Bull, best of the rest for the drivers is fourth behind only the Mercedes pair and Max Verstappen.
“Renault and Ricciardo have the form right now to take both by the end of the season, which would mark a good stepping stone to closing down the gap to the front.”
PALMER RENAULT IS SURPRISED TO SEE HOW RICCIARDO IS OUTPERFORMING OCON PALMER RENAULT IS SURPRISED TO SEE HOW RICCIARDO IS OUTPERFORMING OCON PALMER RENAULT IS SURPRISED TO SEE HOW RICCIARDO IS OUTPERFORMING OCON
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THE NEXT RACE 2021
|Bahrain ||26 Mar|
|14:30 - 15:30||Free practice 1|
|18:00 - 19:00||Free practice 2|
|15:00 - 16:00||Free practice 3|
|18:00 - 19:00||Qualifying|
|18:00 - 20:00||Race|
|Bahrain||57 laps||308.238 km|