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Daniel Ricciardo: 'This season emphasizes my love for Formula 1'

Daniel Ricciardo won seven years with Red Bull

Renault, but Daniel Ricciardo says this season has "emphasized his love" for Formula 1.

The Australian seven-time winner left Red Bull to join Renault on a two-year contract for 2019 and 2020 worth more than $ 50m (£ 40.2m), and his new team starts the season with the ambition of closing on the top three teams.

Instead , Renault have slipped backwards. But Ricciardo says he's "still feels good" about the decision, and no regrets, and that he'll like to continue with the team.

"Yes, because ideally Ricardo tells us BBC Sport in an exclusive interview.

"I just love people." might still think that, but I really do like this. "

After comfortable finishing fourth in the constructors' championship last year, Renault are fifth with seven races left in 201

9, one place behind McLaren, a customer of Renault's engines.

The regression – and the contrast with McLaren's startling progress – has led to disappointment and significant internal pressure, but Ricciardo say he was expecting a difficult season all alo ng.

"Definitely not to be negative, but not even if we were coming sixth every weekend, I knew there were still bigger targets and we were still not going to where we want to be," he says.

"Yes, we're at times further back than we expected and hoped, but I knew there would be a lot of hours to put in. I feel like I was prepared for that.

"Even though I feel like I have worked harder this year than in previous years, it has been quite enjoyable because the environment is different – new people, new relationships."

"If anything,

Ricciardo came 12th in the Austrian Grand Prix in June

There have been some dark moments along the way, though, Renault were uncompetitive.

"Austria, literally, I can tell you conversations in my head during that race," Ricciardo says. "I am literally driving around –

"When I say that, I mean: 'I do not want to be in this position. ' I was 14th or something and it was one of our worst weekends, but it was not a head-down defeat, it was: 'Get me back to the front – this is not where be. '

"So a very bad weekend emphasized my passion and love for the sport and how much I wanted to get everyone back up to the front, including myself."

There have been some strong weekends, too, especially Canada, where Ricciardo qualified a brilliant fourth, splitting the Ferrari and ahead of both the Red Bulls.

"Through some of this struggles, it has been quite positive for me this year, and it's really driven me to want more from it, "he says." That's been cool.

"And on an actual pure positive – Canada. We've had some lows but that's a long way." "

Reputation intact

Ricciardo's last win in F1 at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018

In five years at Red Bull, the team were never consistent frontrunners, but Ricciardo took seven victories, and established a reputation as one of the sport's most exciting drivers, in addition to being most likable and amusing character.

Most of his victories were outstanding, featuring drives through

Ricciardo has inevitably faded slightly from the limelight this year, but the move to Renault has done nothing but damage his reputation as a driver.

He has been comfortably out-paced his team-mate, German Nico Hulkenberg, who has out-qualified Ricciardo only four times in 14 races. Renault's decision to release Hulkenberg and sign Frenchman Esteban Ocon for the next two years all the easier.

And while Ricciardo would prefer to pay more midfield fight.

"If anything, [qualifying] is tighter than last year," he says. I'm enjoying the driving. "

Why have Renault gone backwards?

Renault won back-to-back drivers 'and constructors' championships in 2005 and 2006

As for the car's performance, Renault thinks they have gone wrong this year.

Their strong performance at tracks like this Canada, and the past two races in Belgium and Italy, all 'power circuits', have emphasized that the French manufacturer has made good progress with its engine after years of underperformance. The issue now is the car.

Ricciardo says: "It seems when I speak to the team, the base of the car, the fundamental, the limited direction, has limited us

"So, as far as now looking at next year, it seems like they want to change the whole aerodynamic philosophy of the car.

"It seems like it might be more This is the first time I have heard of it. "

These sounds very much like Ferrari have done this year – pursued an aerodynamic philosophy that looks better initially, but which limits overall downforce; in contrast to Mercedes, whose car is harder to get to work initially, but is better in the end.

For Ricciardo, then, a lot of hangs on Renault getting that right. Ricciardo may well stay. If they can make their new direction work, and take a big step forward.

This is emphasized by Renault Sports managing director Cyril Abiteboul, who said: "What's just about 2020, but 2021 and what's happening to his team -mate ".

Does Ricciardo think Abiteboul suspects he might be looking for pastures new for 2021?

" I definitely have not made any decisions yet, "Ricciardo says.

"I think part of it feels like it – I do not want to say [he feels] he's let us down, but we did not expect it better. "

" When we chatted last year, there were higher hopes for this year. "We're confident next year is going to be a lot better, but he's thinking probably: 'If it does not go [better]why would Daniel want to stay?'

"It's him just being brutally honest with himself and wanting to better and want the team to do better – to basically keep me and any other assets."

Along with Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, both Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and Red Bull's Max Verstappen are all on the market next year.

"So next year, what would I need to see?" He asks rhetorically. "Obviously improvements – not just one position, but some improvements , That would be very encouraging and motivating for everyone.

"I know we're still a long way off that but I still believe it's in reach few things. I can still qualify at the seventh race of the season, I still believe anything's possible with these guys. "

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