Daniel Ricciardo is enjoying a rare Australian Grand Prix buildup without the pressure to perform thanks to his departure from the F1 grid, and Aussie racing legend Alan Jones fears it could be the new norm. Despite the West Australian holding hopes of returning to the grid in 2024, Jones believes Ricciardo's time at the top flight of motorsport is up.
After an unceremonious exit from McLaren last year, paving the way for fellow Aussie driver Oscar Piastri to take his place, Ricciardo rejoined Red Bull as a reserve driver for this season. The 33-year-old remains determined to get back on the grid, declaring at the time that he still believed in his championship ability when given the right machinery.
However Jones, the 1980 F1 champion has a dim outlook on that plan, believing all of the top teams have a level of stability in their driver lineups that Ricciardo's resume is unlikely to sway. Perhaps the best hope for Ricciardo would be the unlikely retirement of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes, where George Russell could easily move into a team leader position.
Even a return with Red Bull would be highly improbable, despite ongoing tension between star drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Jones said there simply wasn't incentive for any team to make moves for the eight-time race winner.
“I don’t think he will get a drive at Red Bull unless something happens to the two current drivers, I can’t see him doing a Grand Prix,” Jones said. "At the end of the day there is probably no reason why Red Bull won’t re-sign Perez and obviously Verstappen (is locked in) and I can’t see anybody at Ferrari resigning or going away, so I just can’t see where he can go.
“It’s very difficult when you have been at the sharp end to race in Formula One and be motivated if you are in a less competitive car. I think that’s the big worry, if you drive a less competitive car, you lose your mojo. That’s the last thing he needs to do right now is appear to be unmotivated.”
Ricciardo's best finish in the Australian grand prix was fourth place, which he achieved twice in 2016 and 2018, both times with Red Bull. Piastri faces a stern test getting his McLaren to the pointy end of the field this weekend, but the Melbourne-born driver remains excited.
Daniel Ricciardo's classy move for Oscar Piastri after McLaren exit
While Ricciardo could have understandably been slightly miffed that his seat at McLaren was being handed to a younger Australian driver, he's instead worked to make Piastri feel welcome in the sport. The pair spoke several times after it was officially announced that Ricciardo would leave McLaren, with Piastri's manager and fellow former F1 driver Mark Webber also in touch.
In an interview with the In the Fast Lane podcast back in 2022, Piastri revealed Ricciardo had put his mind at ease about the situation by calling him soon after the dust had settled on his agreement to leave McLaren.
“I was planning on getting in touch myself, but with the timing of things, he was obviously at a race, and quite frankly I didn’t actually know if he wanted to hear from me," Piastri said.
“I was trying to think of what to say, but he beat me to it. A true professional, Daniel is. My respect for him was already extremely high, and it’s only gotten higher in the way he’s responded.”
Piastri was just 10 years old when Ricciardo debuted in F1 back in 2011, and like many aspiring drivers looked up to the eight-time F1 race winner as he progressed through the junior ranks. He said having the backing and confidence of Ricciardo behind him had put his mind at ease as he prepared for his F1 debut.
“Him getting in touch like that, it was great for me personally,” he said. “Knowing that there were no hard feelings, that really helps me quite a lot.
“That was good, to get in touch. That was a nice moment. It is a bit of a sliding doors moment, but I think if I can get close to emulating what success he’s had on track and also the character he is off the track, then I think I’ll be doing a reasonable job."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.