Daniel Ricciardo would be best off taking a reserve driver role with Mercedes in 2023 despite seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton vowing to stay on with the team, Mark Webber says.
The former Red Bull driver and manager of incoming F1 rookie Oscar Piastri believes Mercedes would be the best place for Ricciardo to prove his worth if he hopes to make a comeback to the grid in 2024.
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Ricciardo will part ways with McLaren at the end of the season to make way for Piastri, having agreed to terminate his contract with a season left to run after struggling to come to compete against teammate Lando Norris.
Though the 33-year-old secured McLaren's only F1 victory since 2012 at last year's Italian GP, he has been consistently beaten for overall pace, both qualifying and in race, by Norris.
The eight-time race winner remains determined to stay in F1 though, believing he still has the skills required to compete at the pointy end of the field.
Ricciardo's preference is to land with a team that could consistently challenge for podiums - ruling out a move to either Williams or Haas, despite the latter's team principal Guenther Steiner reportedly being keen on the prospect.
Webber, who drove for Minardi, Williams and Jaguar before finally becoming a race winner with Red Bull, said he'd spoken with Ricciardo over the Singapore GP weekend and believed a role with Mercedes would be his best bet.
“I had a good chat to him last night,” Webber said.
“I still don’t think he’s sure. A Merc reserve driver role? Who knows how long Lewis (Hamilton) is going to go on for?
"Merc, a pretty handy operation, so it’s something he might consider.”
Rumours have linked Ricciardo to a role with Mercedes for several weeks after it became clear he was running out of options to race in 2023.
Hamilton will negotiate a contract extension with Mercedes at the end of the season, after he only signed a one-year deal covering 2022 following his heartbreaking championship defeat at the hands of Max Verstappen last season.
Many have speculated as to how long Hamilton will continue in F1 for, particularly considering his disillusionment over the circumstances of the Abu Dhabi season finale in 2021.
However he's gone some way towards re-affirming his commitment to Mercedes already in what could be a slightly deflating blow for Ricciardo.
Should Hamilton elect to retire at the end of the 2023 season, Ricciardo would loom as a sensible replacement to race alongside the highly rated George Russell.
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Hamilton poured cold water on such speculation earlier this year though, telling reporters during a press conference alongside Ricciardo that he believed he had several more years if F1 left in him.
“For years we’ve going around, up-and-down with stories of retirement, stopping,” he said.
“For me, I feel healthier than I’ve ever felt. I’m feeling fit, I love what I’m doing. And I don’t plan on stopping any time soon – sorry buddy (to Ricciardo).
“But, my goal was always to be with Mercedes since I signed with them in 2013.
“I love that we have the long partnership we have. I feel like we are embarking on a lot of really positive things – not only in the sport, but outside.
“And I think there’s a lot to accomplish together.
“So, I want to be a part of that. I think I’ll always be with Mercedes – till the day I die. I feel like I can race for quite a bit longer. I’ll potentially be steering towards that.”
While Ricciardo is disappointed his switch to McLaren hasn't yielded the results many hoped it would, the West Australian has taken some comfort in the fact that it's another Aussie taking his place.
Piastri, who had to endure a messy exit from F1 rivals Alpine, said Ricciardo had reached out to him to reassure him of his place in the sport and let him know there weren't any hard feelings.
“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 prepares to debut in F1 next year.
“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.”
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