Daniel Ricciardo is floating in the Formula 1 wilderness after the 2022 season came to an end.
The West Australian won’t be lining up on the grid in 2023 after refusing to join a team further down the grid.
Instead the man known as the “honey badger” has returned to his old stomping ground at Red Bull as the team’s third driver.
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Ricciardo’s tenure at McLaren was cut short when the team signed Aussie youngster Oscar Piastri to pair him with Lando Norris.
The move brought Ricciardo’s time at the Woking-based to an abrupt end, finishing up a year earlier than his contract originally stipulated.
News of his return to Red Bull as a reserve was confirmed by team chief Helmut Marko during the season finale race in Abu Dhabi.
The decision from the eight-time Grand Prix winner to effectively take a year off from the sport before hoping to return to the grid in 2024 has left many legends of the sport baffled.
Ricciardo himself confirmed the move to step back from the constant grind of the Formula 1 world was one he needed to avoid losing his love of the sport.
“As the second half of the season went on, I just needed to step away for a bit, rebuild myself, reset a bit, and also just find the intense love for it,” he told Speedcafe.
“Because, at this level, if you don’t have that, then I’m not doing justice for myself or anyone around me.
“I’m not saying I’ve lost it, but I’m in fear of losing it.”
Ricciardo said he found the process of having to repeatedly pick himself up and dust himself off from difficult races was also wearing him down to the point where he needed a clean break from the sport.
“It just became more and more clear that I couldn’t be doing 24 races next year — it just wasn’t going to, I think, be the right thing for me,” he added.
“I think it would have just probably worn me out more than anything and it’s at a point where I just felt a little exhausted, where I just needed to slow my year down.
“And at this level of sport that is dangerous — you can’t be operating at 99 per cent.
“So I really felt I was in fear of not being at my best if I did another year.”
Despite his struggles over the past two seasons with McLaren, Ricciardo’s move to Red Bull has former world champion Damon Hill believing he could find himself alongside Max Verstappen on the grid in no time.
Red Bull endured a tumultuous finish to the 2022 season after Verstappen refused to move aside for teammate Sergio Perez.
Hill believes it could only a matter of time before Ricciardo is called up to replace Perez.
“It could be quite an interesting one if you think about the problems they have apparently had between Max and Sergio,” Hill told Sky Sports F1.
“Let’s say the toys go out of the pram and there is some sort of fall out there, Daniel Ricciardo could be in prime position.
“It is his home, and he does owe a lot to Red Bull so he will be very keen to be back in that fold.
“What is it about the prodigal son who returns? He could be in a good position coming back and having learned a lot in other places.
“It can be that you can improve having been somewhere else then returning to the place you started.”
Perez is contracted with Red Bull until the end of the 2024 season, but as we’ve seen with Ricciardo if the team wants to move on, they’ll find a way.
The struggles for Ricciardo at McLaren left pundits across the paddock baffled with nobody able to figure out just how the Aussie had fallen away so sharply.
2016 Formula 1 drivers champion Nico Rosberg was at a loss trying to figure out how Ricciardo went from beating Sebastian Vettel when they were Red Bull teammates, to being off the grid in a short span of time.
“I think Daniel didn’t really have much of a choice [to take the reserve role],” Rosberg said on Sky Sports’ ‘Any Driven Monday‘.
“It’s a difficult one with Daniel. Just two years ago he was the next World Champion, the next big thing, huge hype, and now he’s exiting the sport like that. It’s so tough.
“Difficult to understand also why he was struggling to get that performance out of the car, the performance that we’re used to seeing from him.
“He is the one who beat Sebastian Vettel in the same car, let’s remember that, over the whole season fair and square back at Red Bull.
“He is an awesome driver so strange to understand why the last two years with two completely different cars he wasn’t able to deliver, I don’t understand it.
“And of course, he’ll have a good reset now, a year out, and who knows, maybe he’ll have another chance to get back in.”