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Formula 1

Ricciardo fears racing outside F1 in 2023 would hurt his image

by Ben Anderson
5 min read

Daniel Ricciardo knows he faces a stark choice if he wants to resurrect his Formula 1 career in 2023, and he also knows he cannot afford to give the F1 paddock the wrong impression when he makes that decision.

Since coming to terms with McLaren’s decision to buy him out of the final year of his F1 contract, and losing his seat to fellow Australian Oscar Piastri for 2023, Ricciardo has spoken frequently about being open-minded as regards his next steps.

That next move could be as a reserve driver for Mercedes – a role Ricciardo has been linked with but which Lewis Hamilton says he is too good for. It could also be continuing to race in F1, but for a less competitive team than McLaren – though Ricciardo is not being spoken of as a serious contender for the seats (Alpine/AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams) that currently remain vacant.

Ricciardo has also said he’s open to taking a sabbatical – but that won’t be of the type that Fernando Alonso dabbled with in 2019-20.

Alonso has spoken many times of the extra benefits he derived from taking a break from F1 to win the World Endurance Championship, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours, as well as contest the Indianapolis 500 and the Dakar Rally.

But Alonso left F1 on his own terms. Ricciardo’s situation is very different. He knows his stock within the F1 world has fallen, and this awareness is clearly informing his thinking as he weighs his next move.

Perception counts for a lot in F1, so Ricciardo knows he cannot afford to give the impression he is anything other than laser-focused on convincing the paddock that his two seasons at McLaren were an aberration rather than a signal that he’s finished as a top-line F1 driver.

Ricciardo spent most of the extended break enforced by F1’s cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix back home in Australia on his family’s farm – in his words “messing around on bikes” and “being a kid again”.

He returned to the F1 paddock in Singapore having gained some “clarity” in his thinking, and it seems he now knows he needs to choose between racing on in 2023 but almost certainly at or near the back of the grid, or sitting next season out while working on the margins for a top team – and on a full-time return for 2024.

That means he’s categorically ruling out racing outside F1 in 2023, lest it do further harm to his “image” within F1 circles.

“I love other disciplines of motorsport, but I don’t see myself there,” Ricciardo said. “I feel as well I jump into something like that and then it closes the door in F1. It kind of feels like I’ve checked out and I haven’t.

“I’m still very much driven towards remaining here, so I don’t want the view to be ‘ah he’s focused on other things’.

“That’s what I’ve got to weigh up as well. As fun as those things might be, I think what’s got to be best for me, and even the point of my image, is to remain in the sport.

“It’s very quick, I think, for people to see me do something else and be like ‘that’s now where his head’s at; he’s not coming back’. So yeah, I’m solely focused on F1.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Singapore Grand Prix Preparation Day Singapore, Singapore

This is about the only certainty in Ricciardo’s thinking right now. Everything else, as he suggests, requires careful weighing of the pros and cons.

He describes a reserve role with a top F1 team and a race drive with a lesser team as his “two realistic options” to stay in F1 next year – but he also realises these options come with significant downsides.

Racing on with a lesser team takes him further away from his core rationale for competing, which is to be successful: “I guess I don’t want to just race to race – I want to race with a true belief and understanding that I can be back on the podium ultimately”.

The mooted reserve role with Mercedes would allow Ricciardo to re-enter a top F1 team, and could give him the space for a mental reset that fires him up perfectly for a racing comeback.

It could also put him in prime position for a promotion in 2024, when (theoretically at least) Mercedes could have a vacancy if Lewis Hamilton doesn’t agree another contract extension, and/or Mercedes elects to discontinue working with George Russell.

But this could very easily (and perhaps likely) quickly become a complete dead-end.

“I know that if I choose to take a reserve role, or not race next year, nothing’s guaranteed – so obviously that comes at a risk,” Ricciardo admitted. “But that’s what we’re weighing up. At this stage, especially with a top team, there’s no guarantees.”

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

Ricciardo insists his confidence and self-belief remain intact, despite taking “a few blows” during a bruising 2022 season with McLaren, but he also says he’s received kind words from within the wider F1 world that “fills me with confidence to still want to keep at it”.

“The conversations of course are private, but I will say there is still a lot of goodness out there, or positivity, or compliments,” Ricciardo added.

“A lot of people have been in this sport for years – they’ve seen how it works and I don’t think… of course there’s a saying ‘you’re only as good as your last race’, but I think a lot of them have appreciated that it’s not like I forgot how to do this.”

Nevertheless, it remains the case Ricciardo’s F1 stock is at an all-time low, so whatever he does next there is no easy route back to the top – even for an eight-time grand prix winner.

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