Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo’s former team-mate, says he doesn’t know what has happened to the Aussie.
Ricciardo has struggled enormously since joining McLaren at the start of the 2021 campaign, rarely able to get anywhere near team-mate Lando Norris.
He’s been so disappointing in fact that the British team have elected to end his contract a year early, getting rid of him at the end of the current campaign.
Whether he’ll be able to find a seat elsewhere for 2023 is very much unclear with Alpine looking likely to sign Pierre Gasly instead.
Ricciardo being forced to leave F1 would’ve been unthinkable up until last year, with him being widely considered one of the best drivers around.
Vergne experienced his talents up close as a team-mate at Toro Rosso, and doesn’t know where it’s all gone wrong for the Honey Badger.
“When I was racing with him, he was clearly one of the fastest team-mates I’ve ever had,” he told Sky Sports.
“I don’t really know what happened to him. From the moment he decided to leave Red Bull I think things have not gone his way, really.
“The chance of one day being World Champion, which is always what he wanted, is probably slipping away more and more.”
Indeed, given how Ricciardo has performed at McLaren, Vergne understands why the team chose to drop him early and get Oscar Piastri in.
“I understand Zak Brown’s decision to make room for improvement for the team,” the Frenchman added.
“The only thing that the team must be seeing is the difference between him and Lando.
“Yes, he has won a race for McLaren and that race was probably his best at McLaren… but unfortunately in our sport one good result is not enough.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business. The team’s are in the business to compete, to win and to be in the best form.
“When there is a big difference between two drivers and the difference is staying the same, I can understand where they’re coming from.”
It now looks like Ricciardo and Mick Schumacher will battle it out to get perhaps the final available competitive seat for the 2023 campaign, at Haas.
The American team have contacted the Aussie and suggested they’re open to replacing Schumacher, who is to cut his ties with Ferrari at the end of the year.
Both could also replace Nicholas latifi at Williams, but given their struggles, that’s not a particularly desirable seat.
Things will be different if Alpine can’t reach a deal to sign Gasly from AlphaTauri, but it’s starting to look likely that they’ll be able to do so.
That would of course free up his seat at Red Bull’s sister team, but they’d presumably want to give it to someone from their own academy.