Daniel Ricciardo may have unwittingly revealed his plans for the next F1 season after a live microphone inadvertently picked up a discussion with Red Bull's Sergio Perez last weekend.
It was a miserable weekend in the Netherlands for Ricciardo, who qualified and finished in 17th in a Dutch GP performance that could arguably be considered his worst of the season.
Perhaps the only bright spot was the opportunity to meet with his Australian F1 predecessor Mark Webber, who is the manager of fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri - who will be taking Ricciardo's seat at McLaren next year.
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 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.
The 33-year-old has said his desire is to still compete for a top team in F1, but his poor showings over the past two seasons have likely dented many teams' confidence in him.
Backmarkers Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams could all put Ricciardo on the grid next year, but the hot mic conversation last weekend with Perez miay 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'.
It's a scenario that could be increasingly likely if Ricciardo doesn't get a wriggle on in the closing stages of the season.
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.”
Daniel Ricciardo hoping to remain in F1 after McLaren split
The Australian took to social media in August to admit he's not sure about what the future will hold for him after he and his British-based team agreed to end their relationship a year early after his disappointing results.
But Ricciardo, whose reputation has taken a severe hit in his largely unsuccessful two-year spell at McLaren, made a passionate declaration about his continuing love for the sport and his desire to get back among the driving elite.
"I think for the future, what lies ahead, I am not sure yet... I am not sure yet. But we'll see," Ricciardo said, breaking the "bittersweet" news to his 7.3 million followers on Instagram in a video address.
"The sport, I still love it... I still love it. This hasn't affected any of that. I still have that fire in me and that belief in my belly that I can do this at the highest level.
"I look back at this time with McLaren with a smile. I learnt a lot about myself and I think things that will help me with the next step in my career but also just in general, in life."
Despite a difficult two years during which he was consistently outdriven by British teammate Lando Norris, the 33-year-old Ricciardo, an eight-time grand prix winner, shouldn't be short of suitors after his previous F1 successes that included a win at Monza for McLaren last year.
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