Having been dumped out of McLaren and back at Red Bull as a third driver, Daniel Ricciardo seemingly has his eye on a return in 2024 – but where?
Ricciardo may have had one of the best reputations in the sport during his Red Bull days but that certainly took a knock the past two years with a sole win at Monza papering over the cracks of his McLaren career.
Back in the paddock for the first time this season at his home race weekend in Melbourne, it appears Ricciardo already has the itch to return. Here we rank all 10 teams from the least likely to the most likely to offer the Honey Badger a contract.
It was an obvious choice on where to start this ranking. Barring an extraordinary turn of events, it is most likely that both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri will still be racing for McLaren in 2024 and even if that does not prove to be the case, it would take an even weirder run of events for Ricciardo to be the man they turn to.
His two years at McLaren may not be a fair reflection of his overall ability but it did prove his inability to get the best out of the car that didn’t suit his preferred style, a fact that is unlikely to change in a year’s time.
Like McLaren, Ferrari are well stocked in the drivers department with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz tied down until the end of 2024 at the earliest. Given their relative young ages and their performances over the last couple of years, it is likely both will extend their contracts at some point either this year or the next.
The only potential hiccup could be if Leclerc decides his future is better spent elsewhere but even then it is unlikely the Maranello outfit would opt for Ricciardo.
With Fernando Alonso joining on a two-year deal until the end of 2024 and Lance Stroll on a rolling contract, there is simply no room for Ricciardo at the Silverstone-based outfit.
It would be quite the step down for Ricciardo to return to his former team even if it is running under a different name and billed as a ‘sister’ team rather than a junior one.
Nyck de Vries is signed to a one-year deal while Yuki Tsunoda’s contract expires at the end of 2023 meaning there are theoretically two spots up from grabs – but Ricciardo’s stock will take some dent if he does drop down to Red Bull’s sister outfit.
With Alex Albon performing well in 2022 and rookie Logan Sargeant presumably given some leeway even if results do not go his way in 2023, it is unlikely Williams will be in the market for a driver which means no room for Ricciardo, who probably wouldn’t be interested in a move anyway unless there were signs of serious improvement at Grove this year.
A slim possibility
Ricciardo may have done great things at Alpine’s predecessor Renault but the French team are again a side that look to have their driver future wrapped up for the time being.
Pierre Gasly joined this season on a multi-year deal while Esteban Ocon is set to hang around until the end of 2024 but the only potential upset to that situation is if the previous bad blood between the two Frenchmen resurfaces and makes one of their positions untenable.
Another one that is very much in the maybe, but likely maybe not, camp would be for Ricciardo to replace Lewis Hamilton who has still yet to resolve his future at Mercedes.
Hamilton has said he is unlikely to hang up his gloves just yet and believes he has it in him to stick around for a few more years yet and, while both he and Toto Wolff have confirmed a new Mercedes contract is on its way, pen has not been put to paper.
Before Red Bull snatched him up, Mercedes were interested in acquiring Ricciardo’s services as third driver which would suggest the brains at Brackley and Brixworth do see something in him.
Given Zhou Guanyu was the only rookie on the track in 2022, it was hard to gauge just how well he fared in his debut season.
He was soundly beaten by Valtteri Bottas, no surprise given the difference in experience, before having his contract extended late in the year. That suggested Alfa were not entirely convinced but did not see a better option out there.
Should the Chinese driver fail to set the world on fire in 2023 then the team may look to go in another direction and Ricciardo could be a realistic option for them.
It is also a move that Ricciardo would be interested in, especially given Audi’s future involvement and with Andreas Seidl already there, Ricciardo will have a familiar face to work with.
Right now, if you had to put money on what colours of overalls Ricciardo would be wearing heading into 2024, there would be more than a few picking Red Bull.
Christian Horner has never sought to hide how much he admires his former pupil and the third driver role was very much a lifeline handed out to a man who looked as if he was going to be out of the paddock completely.
There is another man inside the Red Bull garage that, Baku 2018 aside, had a good relationship with the Australian and that is Max Verstappen, which makes for an interesting narrative heading into 2023.
At times, Verstappen’s relationship with Sergio Perez seemed to deteriorate in 2022 and if that is a trend that continues this season, is there a team principal on the grid who would back himself more to get the best out of Ricciardo than Horner?
He has already made comments about getting him back to the old Daniel after a horror spell at McLaren.
Yes, we know Ricciardo rejected a Haas seat for 2023 but the stars could align for Guenther Steiner and co. to make another move in 2024.
Fast-forward to a year from now, Ricciardo is itching to get back into Formula 1 but the phone has just not been ringing – so perhaps that Haas deal he turned his nose up previously now looks a lot more appealing.
With Kevin Magnussen out of contract at the end of the upcoming season, and Nico Hulkenberg only confirmed for 2023, although the team does have an option on him for ’24, Haas could once again be in the market for a new driver and Steiner does not seem like the kind of man to hold a grudge, especially when he could get a driver of the calibre of Ricciardo in the team.
In fact, Steiner has already started to plant the seeds for future discussions with Ricciardo.
“It’s a little bit early to speak about a driver change already for next year,” he said back in March.
“So let’s see how we are doing with these drivers [Kevin Magnussen and [Nico Hulkenberg] and, for sure, at some point maybe I speak with him but I cannot promise anything because if our two guys do a good job.
“I think that is where I stand with it, but for sure, Danny is…everybody is wanting to speak with Danny after a year off.
“Maybe he knows again what he wants to do and he will be interesting for everybody in Formula 1. But, at the moment, I have a new driver this year [Hulkenberg] that has done only two races, so I need to give him a little bit of a chance.”
What Haas will have to do, though, is deliver enough strong performances this season to attract a big name like Ricciardo.