Could Daniel Ricciardo join Mercedes as a reserve driver next year?
The 33-year-old was axed by McLaren with 12 months remaining on his contract after an underwhelming couple of seasons with the Woking-based team, leaving him without a seat on the F1 paddock for 2023.
The Perth native will be replaced by young compatriot Oscar Piatsri, who will partner British driver Lando Norris at McLaren next year.
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Last month, Ricciardo was linked to Mercedes as a reserve driver — the powerhouse team’s seats for 2023 are set in stone with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell proving a strong partnership.
And ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday, the Australian was spotted walking out of the Mercedes hospitality area at Marina Bay, once again sending the rumour mill into overdrive.
“Mercedes are definitely interested,” The Times journalist Rebecca Clancy told CODE Sports’ Track Torque podcast last month.
“Mercedes would love him as their reserve driver because he brings experience, the talent, absolute marketers dream.
“He is talking to all the teams, there are some options, he doesn’t want to be uncompetitive though.
“The discussions (with Mercedes) will keep rolling, they don’t really need to make a decision until March next year, or testing, maybe in February.
“(Ricciardo) is a proven performer and quite frankly the sport needs people like him.
“These young drivers who are coming in, their whole lives are racing, don’t make for the most interesting people.
“You need the slightly older guys. Drive to Survive needs them, F1 needs them, we all need them. I’m not in love with how the grid is shaping up next season.”
The footage of Ricciardo waltzing out of the Mercedes building has only fanned the flames of F1’s annual silly season.
“I still believe that an opportunity is there for Daniel Ricciardo to remain in Formula 1 for next season at Red Bull or Mercedes as a third driver,” Sky Sports commentator David Croft said on Friday.
“Talks have been ongoing, shall we say, with both of those teams.”
There has been mounting speculation about Ricciardo’s next move, but he is quickly running out of options. Only three F1 teams are yet to confirm their driver line-ups for 2023, with seats still available at Alpine, Haas and Williams.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, Ricciardo confirmed his management had been exploring options, but confessed he would happily take on a reserve driver position next year as a back-up plan.
Accepting a third driver role may seem unusual for someone of Ricciardo’s calibre, but doing so would make him a leading candidate for vacancies in 2024.
Hamilton’s contract expires at the end of the 2023 season, and there’s a strong possibility the seven-time world champion will hang up the boots next year.
“My team is talking to pretty much everyone and they are having conversations, so we are just trying to put it all together and figure out what makes the most sense,” Ricciardo said on Thursday.
“So it‘s not that they’re not interested, and while I’m not coming from a place of over confidence, we are just doing our due diligence and figuring out what’s best.
“Trying to see beyond next year, because for me I want be racing but also don‘t want to be just looking at the next 12 months and not the next 24.
“I‘m still keen to be part of F1. Of course, Plan A would to be on the grid, so nothing’s changed, but I don’t want to just jump at the first seat available. I know the landscape has probably changed as well at the end of next year with contracts or whatever, so I’m remaining open.
“I know that if I choose to take a reserve role or not race next year, nothing‘s guaranteed. So that comes at a risk, but that’s what we are weighing up. At this stage, especially with a top team, there are no guarantees.
“I know, having been through the last few years, there’s something (about) — obviously Monza last year was the best-case scenario — fighting for a win.
“What fighting at the front does — when you‘ve had that taste, it’s real. That’s ultimately where I want to be.
“I guess I don‘t want to just race to race. I want to race with a true belief and understanding that I could be back on the podium.”
However, Hamilton argued that Ricciardo was “far too talented” to be sitting on the sidelines, confessing it would be “great” to have the Australian in his garage.
“I think he should be racing, personally,” he said last month.
“He’s far too talented to (be a third driver) and he’s earned the right to be amongst us all racing.
“But, of course, if he’s a part of our team that would be great. But third (driver) role is not really what’s best for him. If I was managing him, he’d be racing!”
The Singapore Grand Prix is scheduled to get underway on Sunday evening, with lights out scheduled for 11pm AEST.