As rumours continue to circulate around Oscar Piastri’s future, Daniel Ricciardo’s place at McLaren is beginning to look more and more precarious.
Sebastian Vettel turned the key on silly season when he announced his retirement from Formula 1 at the end of the 2022 season ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso knocked the door down when it was announced by Aston Martin that he will be replacing the German in 2023, but it was Piastri that blew the house up when he made a shock announcement on social media.
Alpine issued a press release that Piastri will be moving up to the main fold next season to replace the double world champion, but the reserve driver would later publicly deny this.
That is thought to be because he has been negotiating a deal with McLaren that would see him partner Lando Norris at the British side, forcing Ricciardo out.
Were that to happen, the Australian would be left with five options available to him for next season.
There are still seats available up and down the grid with several drivers out of contract at the end of this season, one of those being his former team: Alpine.
The 33-year-old departed the Enstone-based team for McLaren at the end of 2020, and announced his departure from the then-Renault team after just one season with them.
This was said to have irritated Renault CEO, Luca de Meo, but team principal Otmar Szafnauer, who joined the French side at the start of this season, indicated that he would not have a problem putting Ricciardo alongside Esteban Ocon next year.
“I mean, if you look at Fernando, for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” he said before Piastri dropped his bombshell.
“And I don’t think that’s an issue at all, I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next eight or nine races.
“We’ve got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us.
“And we [need to] put the best driver in next to Esteban, so that we can move forward towards what we’ve been planning.”
Another possibility is that Ricciardo moves to the team that Piastri was initially expected to be loaned out to – Williams.
Likelihood is growing that Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi will be dropped at the end of the year, and the Grove-based side would surely welcome the chance to work with a driver as experienced and talented as the eight-time race winner.
Zhou Guanyu, an Alpine academy graduate himself, has yet to come to terms with Alfa Romeo on a deal for next season but, while that has not happened yet, he is expected to have a seat for next year after some impressive performance in his rookie season.
Mick Schumacher has a good chance of re-signing with the Haas team for next year when his own contract runs out and, if Ricciardo replaces him, there may yet be a place at Alpine for the young German.
Yuki Tsunoda is another who is out of contract this season, but it is doubtful that Ricciardo would fancy returning to the Red Bull junior programme at 33 years of age.
Behind door number six is an even less favourable option – he could leave Formula 1.
Ricciardo may be able to find a spot in Formula E, IndyCar, or just about anywhere he wants if he is pushed out of the pinnacle of motorsport.
Despite his struggles to get to grips with the McLaren car since he joined, he still possesses a great deal of raw talent, and there are many teams around the world that would be lucky to have him.
As for where he will truly end up, no one quite knows. Piastri’s agreement with McLaren may not even exist, although his severance from Alpine in his tweet would suggest that he has struck a deal somewhere.
As a result, the most likely option for McLaren’s current driver is Alpine, and surely after two seasons away, all will be forgiven at Enstone and Viry.