Daniel Ricciardo is one of the four drivers “on a different level” to the rest of the Formula One field, said Renault sporting director Alan Permane.
The Australian is a seven-time grand prix winner having raced with Red Bull for five seasons before a surprise switch to Renault at the end of 2018.
Next year he will move to McLaren, his fifth new F1 team.
The untimely announcement of his decision back in May risked having the rest of his season undermined through bitter inter-team emotions.
However, Ricciardo and Renault have in fact strengthened their relationship and his on-track performances reflect this surge in form.
With just three grands prix left in the season, Ricciardo is sixth in the standings. He also scored two podiums this season, his first since his 2018 Monaco win, at the Nurburgring and Imola through a blend of good fortune and shrewd racecraft.
His points scoring streak extends all the way back to Belgium and it seems he has shoved aside the initial graceless comments made by Renault about his move to McLaren.
Speaking on F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast, Permane said Ricciardo’s performances of late have placed him, in his eyes, on a similar level to the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
“Pre-Covid he would come to the factory and the whole team would be gathered in the race shop and you could tell there’s just love from everyone for him,” Permane said.
“There’s not many like him on the current grid, and you know, I’m only speaking from what I see, [which is] the same as everyone else sees – okay, I’ve seen a little bit more of Daniel, but there’s him, there’s Lewis, there’s Charles and there’s Max.
“Those four are a different level. You know, it’s no disrespect to Esteban but he’s just that half a tenth, one-tenth behind, and where we are that that can be a lifetime.
“He’s striving hard to close that gap and learning from Daniel where he can, and he sees what he [Ricciardo] has done with his team, and he’s doing the same, and he’s doing a great job – and if he can emulate him and have that same success, then great.”
Renault have quickly risen to one of the top-five teams week in, week out. The French marque now finds itself with a chance to share third in the constructor standings this season, a result that was eluded the team since 2007.
Ricciardo admitted after the announcement of his premature split with the team he was hopeful that he could avoid a messy divorce. But he says now the strong effort by the team to push on with development has been “really cool.”
“The work has started to shine through and it’s nice that it’s recognised,” he said.
“But it’s not just me, the whole team stepped up this year.
“I think we’ve really worked together as a unit, and it’s a team sport after all. So, the teamwork is coming good.”
Premane joked that he reminds his Australian star after each weekend that the option to stay on with the team is still open.
“I tell him every week it’s not too late to change his mind,” he said. “Seriously, I do.
“And of course, it’s tongue-in-cheek and I know he can’t change his mind. He doesn’t even pretend to say that he would even consider it out of respect to his new team and all that.
“But who knows, if this had been a normal season, and people weren’t making their minds up about team changes before we’d even really turned a wheel, who knows where we’d be now?
“But we are [where we are], so we just have to deal with that, you know, and without that we wouldn’t have Fernando back. So one door closes, another one opens for the team, if you like.”
The job isn’t over for Renault though, with third place in the constructors and the subsequent prize money still in touching distance – a fitting farewell gift for one the best in the business.