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Ricciardo to leave Red Bull for ambitious Renault

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Paris (AFP)

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo is quitting Red Bull at the end of the season and joining Renault on a two-year deal, as the French team signalled Friday their intent to bring back their Formula One glory days.

It has been more than a decade since Renault last won the Formula One drivers' title with Fernando Alonso in 2006, and the team who supply engines to Red Bull have not won a race since fully rejoining Formula One three years ago.

Ricciardo, 29, is fifth in the 2018 drivers' standings and has won in China and Monaco this season, two of his seven Grand Prix victories.

"It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far," Ricciardo told the Renault website. "But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge."

Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul said the signing of the gifted extrovert underlined their ambitions.

"Daniel's signing underscores our determination to accelerate our progress towards the forefront of the sport," he said.

"Daniel's undoubted talent and charisma are a huge bonus and statement for the team. We will have to repay his faith in us by delivering the best car possible."

Team president Jerome Stoll added: "Renault decided to come back to Formula One to fight for world championships."

Red Bull announced first that Ricciardo had decided to quit the team, before Renault swiftly confirmed his signing.

Currently, Renault's best-placed driver is Nico Hulkenberg in seventh in the standings, while 23-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sainz is 11th.

Renault appeared to confirm that Sainz would be making way for Ricciardo.

"Renault Sport Formula One team is happy to confirm the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo to join Nico Hulkenberg as a driver starting from next season," Renault said in a statement.

Ricciardo's switch to a team outside the big three of Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari represents a gamble.

While Renault are one place behind Red Bull in the constructors' standings, they only have 82 points while third-placed Red Bull sit on 223.

"I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level," he added.

"But I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track."

- Dominos tumbling -

While the leading team, Mercedes, announced before the German Grand Prix on July 22 that they had locked their two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, to contract extensions, Ricciardo's switch could start dominos tumbling elsewhere in the paddock.

The promising Sainz, who like Ricciardo is a product of Red Bull's driver development programme, is one driver already looking for a seat.

Red Bull meanwhile need to find a replacement for Ricciardo.

"We will now continue to evaluate the numerous options available to us before deciding on which driver partners Max Verstappen for the 2019 season," team principal Christian Horner told the Red Bull website.

Ricciardo drove for Red Bull's junior Formula One team Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013.

He switched to the flagship Red Bull team in 2014 and has since won seven races and recorded 29 podium finishes. He finished third in the drivers' standings in 2014 and 2016.

He has also added a new term to the Formula One lexicon -- the 'shoey', which is his own tradition of drinking champagne from his shoe to celebrate victories.

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