The Formula One world has been keenly awaiting news on Daniel Ricciardo's future in the sport, and an unexpected team could be the one to offer the Australian driver a lifeline.
Ricciardo says he remains determined to remain in F1 after his early split with McLaren, but options for a full-time drive with a competitive team look thin on the ground.
Backmarkers Williams and Alfa Romeo could consider the 33-year-old, as would Haas, who have improved this season after two dismal years in 2020 and 2021.
While Ricciardo has admitted a year off and a return in 2024 could be on the cards for him, it has been suggested that a spot with Mercedes as reserve driver next season could be on the cards.
Veteran F1 writer Joe Saward made the comment in a wide ranging post on his blog discussing the aftermath of the Belgian Grand Prix, just days before Ricciardo's split was officially announced.
"It has been also been suggested that Ricciardo’s best move might be to become reserve driver at Mercedes, to help build up his confidence again," Saward wrote.
Ricciardo himself hasn't ruled out taking a reserve driver role, saying it fits with his desire to remain in F1 for the time being, and that he isn't 'too proud' to take a lesser role.
Speaking at the Dutch GP, Ricciardo admitted a difficult tenure with McLaren made some time off the grid somewhat enticing.
“I’m pretty open minded with any scenario. I think there’s pros and cons with all of it," he said.
"There’s pros with having some time off as well, currently the 18 months I’ve had has been more challenging than not so maybe some time away would be good.
“But then also staying active is good. That’s why I kind of want to hear everything. Even if it’s a reserve, I don’t want to be too proud to say I’m too good for that.
“I just want to hear everything and see what makes sense. It could be something that sets me up better for the future and next year may be one of those years where I need a bit of patience.”
Daniel Ricciardo at Mercedes in 2023? Would that be a good move as a reserve driver next season?
Suggestions of this have been noted in Joe Saward's latest Greenbook
Toto had previously been quoted as saying: “We always had an eye on Daniel … we really like him in here,” #F1 pic.twitter.com/xJQbcPvgS4
— FormulaNerds 🤓🏁 (@Formula_Nerds) September 1, 2022
Confidence has been lacking for Ricciardo in his second season with McLaren, with teammate Lando Norris outperforming the Australian by an alarmingly wide margin.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has admitted in the past Ricciardo was considered to partner with Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2019 season, but ultimately decided to stick with then-teammate Valtteri Bottas.
“We always had an eye on Daniel … we really like him in here,” Wolff said at the time.
Daniel Ricciardo's F1 future uncertain after McLaren split
Ricciardo's future in F1 is at a crossroads after he agreed to walk away from his McLaren contract a year early, making way for fellow Australian Oscar Piastri in the process.
A return to Alpine, who he raced for in 2019 and 2020 when the team was known as Renault, could potentially be on the cards, however if Ricciardo is on the grid next season it would most likely be with a team further down the grid.
Backmarkers Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams could all put Ricciardo on the grid next year, but a conversation last weekend with Red Bull's Sergio Perez that was caught by a hot mic may have offered a glimpse into where he's truly at.
The full conversation between Perez and Ricciardo couldn't be heard, but at point Ricciardo clearly says 'Take a year off and come back in 2024'.
Ricciardo has little desire to join another motorsport category, telling News Corp recently that he would be open to having a year off from F1 entirely and then come back with a stronger team - though that could still be an unlikely prospect.
“My mindset is still I’m an F1 driver. I am proud of what I’ve done, but I still feel there’s a bit more to show or to give myself," Ricciardo said.
"I wouldn’t race another category next year. That fire in my gut is still there. It hasn’t gone away.
“There are pros with having some time off as well. The last 18 months have been more challenging than not, so maybe some time away would do me good.
“But then obviously staying active in here is good. So that’s why I want to hear everything. “Even if it’s reserve, I don’t want to be too proud to say, ‘I’m too good for that.’ I just want to hear everything and see what makes sense.”
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