Up until his disastrous switch to McLaren resulted in him being jettisoned by the Woking team just two years into his three-year contract, Daniel Ricciardo had a reputation for being one of the brightest talents on the Formula 1 grid.
The winner of seven grands prix with Red Bull added an eighth with a brilliant, unexpected victory at Monza in 2021, but that was not enough for him to save his drive after he ended 2022 having been out-scored by team mate Lando Norris by a combined 130 points over their two seasons together.
But while Ricciardo losing his driver with McLaren may not have been a shock to most fans, the fact that the 33-year-old disappeared off the grid entirely for 2023 was a surprise to many. With no race seat available to him – or at least none to his liking – Ricciardo instead signed with Red Bull to return to the team he had left just four years prior, only this time as their third driver.
This year, the only chance Ricciardo has of racing is if either Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez are physically unable to race during a grand prix weekend where he is the designated Red Bull reserve driver for that weekend and not Liam Lawson. But in all likelihood, the only driving Ricciardo will be doing with the team this season will be for demonstration runs of Red Bull’s many showcars.
Despite this, Ricciardo remains confident that his racing career in Formula 1 isn’t over just yet. In a recent interview with Red Bull’s own Red Bulletin, Ricciardo said attending the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne made him realise he doesn’t want to throw in the towel on his F1 career.
“It certainly confirmed that I don’t feel done,” he said. “Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be racing next year. Last year, a part of me thought, ‘oh, maybe this is it,’ but now I feel that’s not how it’s going to end.”
But will Ricciardo really be able to find a way back on the grid in 2024?
Regardless of the fact he is effectively sitting out a season, Ricciardo remains one of the most outstanding candidates for drivers not on the F1 grid who may be deserving of a place on it. He is one of the most successful drivers of the last decade, with eight race victories to his name, and having regularly beaten two world champion team mates – Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen – during his time alongside them at Red Bull.
He is also just 33-years-old – easily a veteran, but far younger than the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Even Nico Hulkenberg, who returned to the grid this season after multiple seasons out of F1, is older than the Australian.
Ricciardo was too slow at McLaren, but has been strong in all other circumstances. His talent and previous achievements make him worthy of a second chance on the grid.
With only 20 seats in Formula 1, only the very best drivers deserve to be given the chance to fill one of those limited placed on the grid. F1 is neither a charity, nor a social club – your past success means little if all you have to show from your recent seasons is being consistently out-performed by your younger and less-experienced team mate race after race.
For that reason, it’s hard to see why a team would choose to take a chance on Ricciardo – especially after a year out of the sport – in the hope that the version of him they get is the version that won seven races in a Red Bull or brought multiple podiums to Renault in his second season there. Especially when there are talented young drivers coming through into Formula 1 on an annual basis these days. Ricciardo has had his chance and, like many before him, it has come to an end.
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Daniel Ricciardo’s loss of speed during his time at McLaren has got to be one of the greatest mysteries in F1’s recent sporting history. There’s few other examples that come to mind where a driver who was considered a potential world champion appearing to lose so much speed in such a short space of time.
Haas’s Steiner approached Ricciardo in 2022 It’s because of that, and the drive he had in Italy that secured him that remarkable victory in 2021, that it is hard to believe that his ability has deserted him quite as dramatically as it appeared at times in 2022. And with the likes of Haas team principal Guenther Steiner admitting he approached Ricciardo late last year about a possible drive, it’s entirely possible that he will have racing options for 2024.
That is, of course, if he wants them. He has been very open about his desire that, if he is to race again in Formula 1, he is only looking at a top team – a team that can be in the fight for podiums and even victories. But it is extremely hard to see where that opportunity will come. Mercedes and Aston Martin are highly unlikely to pick Ricciardo to replace any of their current drivers, while Red Bull are unlikely to consider switching Sergio Perez for Ricciardo given that Perez is the best partner to Verstappen since Ricciardo himself.
That makes a return to a team that finishes in the bottom half of the championship more likely. Eventually, like many drivers have before, him, Ricciardo might well find out that his only option to get back into a race seat will be with a team whose aspirations lie in the midfield and in race wins. Unless something dramatic opens up at the front, he’s likely to find that will be his only choice. And then we shall see how high Ricciardo’s standards will stay.
Where do you think Daniel Ricciardo will be driving in 2024?
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