McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was overheard telling Red Bull’s Sergio Perez that he could end up taking a year away from Formula 1 next year and make a return in 2024.
The Australian is out of contract at the end next season, but he and McLaren will end their partnership, by mutual consent, at the end of this season.
It has been a tricky time for the 33-year-old since he joined the team last season, and he has struggled to emulate the form that took him to seven race wins with Red Bull between 2014 and 2018.
He did take a famous win at the Italian Grand Prix last season, but this has not masked the fact that Lando Norris has established himself as the dominant leader in Woking.
A lack of adaptability between driver and car, as well as the presence of a team-mate who is almost certain to go on and win a world title in his career, have worked against the 32-time podium finisher, so the dream driver line-up announced in 2020 has not worked out.
There are potential options available to Ricciardo, one of which being his old team – Alpine.
Having lost two drivers in as many months, the French side are now looking for a replacement for Fernando Alonso, but the manner of Ricciardo’s departure after just two seasons with the then Renault team did not go down well with the hierarchy.
Further, they now seem set on paying Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and Red Bull buyout clause, to create an all-French line-up next season, with Esteban Ocon already tied down to a contract.
Haas’ Mick Schumacher is out of contract at the end of the season, and while everyone seems to be keeping their cards close to their chest, the consensus is that reports claiming Guenther Steiner had called Ricciardo over the summer break are likely true.
Were that not to materialise, Williams and Alfa Romeo will both, as it stands, have spare room in 2023.
Nicholas Latifi’s future looks a little more promising after some solid performances recently, and Zhou Guanyu is expected to re-sign alongside Valtteri Bottas.
Should Gasly head to Alpine, Yuki Tsunoda would be in need of a new team-mate next year, but Ricciardo would have to decide if he fancies going back to the Red Bull junior side.
This is not about choice anymore for the Aussie though; sadly, his Papaya performances have stripped him of leverage in negotiations, so any contract he signs will likely not be on his terms.
Such is the scarcity of available seats at present, that one of the options is to go and do something else for a year and return after 2023, which he was heard suggesting to Perez ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix last weekend.
“Take a year off and come back in 2024,” Ricciardo seemed to suggest.
In a recent interview, the eight-time race winner stated that, if he cannot be in the paddock next season, he will do everything he can to return the year after.
“I wouldn’t give up on F1,” Ricciardo told CODE Sports.
“If it means I’m not on the grid next year, I will still certainly try to find a way to be on there in 2024, it’s honestly the only racing I’m really interested in at the moment.
“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.
“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.”
Ricciardo will be replaced next season by Alpine reserve, Oscar Piastri, and he has personally contacted his compatriot to congratulate him and reassure him that there are no hard feelings.