After months of speculation, Daniel Ricciardo appears to finally have some certainty about his Formula 1 future, for the short term at least.
The eight-time grand prix winner is set to join Red Bull next season as reserve driver, keeping some hope alive of him returning to a full time race drive in 2024.
Since agreeing to end his contract with McLaren a year early, with the team recruiting fellow Australian driver Oscar Piastri in his stead, Ricciardo has been adamant next season will only be a 12-month sabbatical from racing.
Securing the reserve driver at Red Bull, a move which was confirmed by the team's motorsport advisor Helmut Marko at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, keeps Ricciardo in contact with the F1 world which could quickly leave him behind if he's not careful.
The situation still isn't 100% ideal for Ricciardo, slated to undertake a promotional and ambassadorial role with Red Bull academy driver Liam Lawson picked as the stand-in for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in 2023.
Ricciardo could have some opportunities to race again, with Lawson also expected to compete in Japan's highly rated Super Formula series as well, with some dates clashing with the F1 calendar.
Few could have foreseen Ricciardo eventually returning to the Red Bull fold after his somewhat acrimonious departure from the team at the end of 2018, unhappy that Verstappen was being favoured over him.
“Ricciardo will be our third driver. We have so many sponsors, we have to do show runs and the like, so of course he‘s one of the most high profile and best suited," Marko said.
Former F1 champion Damon Hill said Ricciardo's return to Red Bull came at an interesting time given the recently exposed tension between Verstappen and Perez.
Hill said if the team isn't able to get the situation under control, Ricciardo's options could suddenly open up.
— Paul Rieckhoff🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@PaulRieckhoff) November 18, 2022
“It could be quite an interesting one if you think about the problems they have apparently had between Max and Sergio,” Hill told Sky Sports.
“Let’s say the toys go out of the pram and there is some sort of fallout there, Daniel Ricciardo could be in prime position.
“It is his home, and he does owe a lot to Red Bull so he will be very keen to be back in that fold. What is it about the prodigal son who returns?
“He could be in a good position coming back and having learned a lot in other places. It can be that you can improve having been somewhere else then returning to the place you started.
“I am sure that Sergio’s contract is watertight, and he will be there for a long time but if relationships deteriorate, sometimes it becomes unworkable, and the suspicion is Max has quite a lot of power in that team.”
@danielricciardo returns to Red Bull in 2023!😍 Do u think the Honey Badger will drive in Grand Prix's with him being the reserve driver?🤔#ricciardo #fia #f1 #timcoronel #formula1 #redbullracing pic.twitter.com/CK9c57kXvH
— Tim Coronel (@TimCoronel) November 18, 2022
Daniel Ricciardo faces facts about potential F1 exit
Ricciardo has conceded he may be about to have his last race in F1 at this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after his traumatic season, in which McLaren teammate Lando Norris has generally run rings around the 33-year-old.
Australia's only current driver on the F1 circuit admitted the season-ending race might not just be his farewell to McLaren but to his entire grand prix career.
"Mentally I'm not treating it like it's going to be my last-ever race - but it could be," the 33-year-old, a popular figure on the circuit for 11 years, conceded to reporters in the pre-race news conferences.
"I know that nothing's guaranteed in the future, so I'm going out to enjoy it, I'm not going to get too, let's say, emotional about the thought that, 'oh, is it the last one or not?'.
"I do want to enjoy it and take it for what it is."
Ricciardo will be sorely missed if he doesn't compete next year, as he's remained one of the most liked and colourful characters in the sport.
"I will miss that the most, working so closely with a guy like Daniel, a guy I've had so many laughs with and I've learned so much from at the same time," said Norris.
"Changing teammates is not a bad thing or a nice thing, but it's always a big change.
"It's always a shame going away from someone because I feel like I always build good friendships with my teammates and good relationships," said Norris.
"But Daniel is Daniel, everyone loves Daniel. I will miss him as my teammate - but I won't miss him because he's going to be in the paddock next year."
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