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Formula 1

Could Ricciardo really return to F1 after a 2023 sabbatical?

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Daniel Ricciardo recently admitted he won’t be on the Formula 1 grid next season – at least not on a full-time basis. But given he has not found a suitable drive for 2023 after being dropped by McLaren, what are the chances of him finding one for 2024?

As recent months have shown, the F1 driver market can be an unpredictable beast. From that perspective, anything is possible given the cascade effect that can be set off by one unexpected move.

But based on what we know now, the list of potential destinations for Ricciardo in 2024 is not extensive.

Among the big teams, only Mercedes does not have its full line-up contracted for 2024. Given Lewis Hamilton was saying during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend that he feels he can’t leave any time soon, the chances of there even being a vacancy there don’t seem large.

And if there were a potential spot, it would be one of the most sought-after seats in F1. That’s part of the rationale for Ricciardo considering a Mercedes reserve role if offered to him, as it would put him in the position to stake a claim. But even with that potential ‘in’ it is a very long shot, albeit one with a big upside.

At Red Bull, Sergio Perez is contracted to the end of 2024, while Ferrari has Carlos Sainz signed up for two more years and Leclerc through to the conclusion of 2026. Even if something were to change, a return to Red Bull or being signed by a Ferrari team that passed up the chance to recruit him for 2021 are both vanishingly unlikely.

There’s no room at McLaren, while Alpine’s driver line-up is locked in for the next two years with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly in place. Neither had any interest in Ricciardo’s services for 2023 – McLaren is actually paying him significant money not to drive one of its cars, so why would that change for ’24?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Preparation Day Monza, Italy

Fernando Alonso’s long-term Aston Martin deal means he isn’t going anywhere and there’s no sign of Lance Stroll being dispensed with. So the doors appear firmly closed at Aston Martin. As for AlphaTauri, it would make no sense for Ricciardo to return to the team where he had his first two full seasons in F1, and there’s no reason why it would be interested in his services.

Williams and Haas could potentially have space for him in 2024, but given Ricciardo didn’t appear keen on such moves for next year, their performance levels would have to increase dramatically for that to change. Unless that is, a year on the sidelines reinvigorated Ricciardo so much that he was willing to start again on the lower reaches of the grid.

If you had to pick one team that offered the best chance for a Ricciardo return, it’s probably Alfa Romeo. In 2024, the Sauber team will no longer be badged by the Italian manufacturer and will be majority-owned by Audi.

It could be tempted by another proven, experienced race winner to run alongside Valtteri Bottas. As the team is unlikely to take a leap forward in competitiveness over the next 12 or so months, it won’t be playing in the big leagues in the driver market and Ricciardo might fit the bill.

But best chance doesn’t necessarily mean a strong chance and there’s no indication whether or not there would be any interest in Ricciardo’s services, especially with Bottas already on board as the experienced hand.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Miami Grand Prix Race Day Miami, Usa

Things will change over time, so just because the driver market landscape doesn’t look especially welcoming for Ricciardo in 2024 doesn’t mean that it won’t do so come the middle of next year.

Plus, it’s not impossible Ricciardo has already had some tentative conversations for ’24 that have made it clear that there are doors potentially open to him.

It could also be that Ricciardo will head into his year off the grid in 2023 as effectively an F1 retirement toe-in-the-water. Whether or not that might be as a full-on sabbatical or while fulfilling a reserve driver role remains to be seen. But Ricciardo might benefit from the clarity of a year out.

He’s adamant he’s still passionate about F1 and he might well be. It’s also possible he’s not completely sure, because it will be difficult for him to imagine what life without F1 is like. After all, he’s raced there for 11-and-a-half seasons and, for years before that, it was all about getting there. When something has been as all-consuming as that, being away from it will be a big change.

Only Ricciardo really knows what he has in mind. He might be absolutely determined to force his way back in for 2024 and willing to give it his all to do so. But he could also be treating this as a Mika Hakkinen-style ‘soft’ retirement experiment ahead of making it formal. He might not even know for sure.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

But he is someone who has other interests in life, one who will likely revel in a year away from the stresses and pressures of existence as an F1 race driver. That distance might offer a different perspective and will surely offer clarity one way or the other. And it could also give him the chance to consider how seriously he wants to pursue a racing career outside of F1.

If it were to be a precursor to official F1 retirement, regardless of how his two seasons with McLaren went, he could walk away from F1 with his head held high after a brilliant career during which he was, at times, the best driver in F1.

But if Ricciardo does find a way back, you can guarantee he’ll give it his all. And given the heights he’s reached in the past, he could well prove he has far more to offer in F1.

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