Is Daniel Ricciardo set to join AlphaTauri?

Daniel Ricciardo is set to leave McLaren at the end of the season.

Amid uncertainty around his future, the really important thing for Daniel Ricciardo to remember is not to panic.

He cannot throw himself into another team with whom he has no idea if things will work out, or if his motives align with theirs.

Little did anyone have a clue at the time, that his move to McLaren at the end of 2020 would turn out to be an ill-judged one, but it sadly was.

The Australian started his career with HRT in 2011, debuting at the British Grand Prix before taking part in a further nine races that season.

READ: Ex-Daniel Ricciardo team-mate speaks out as he’s linked to Haas and Williams

He went to the doomed Spanish side on loan from Red Bull having joined their programme a couple of years prior, but he got his move to their junior team, Toro Rosso, in 2012.

Then 23, Ricciardo scored points six times that season alongside Jean Eric Vergne, and both drivers were kept on for 2013.

The Perth-born racer out-qualified the Frenchman 11 times that season, and their intra-team battle was an important one, as there was a seat at Red Bull up for grabs.

Mark Webber was leaving the main fold at the end of the year to join Porsche’s WEC exploits, and it was Ricciardo who earned the promotion after he finished 13th in the championship, seven points ahead of Vergne.

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Ricciardo impressively out-performed four-time champion Sebastian Vettel during the first year of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014, winning three races as he ended the season third behind the Mercedes pair of Sir Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Four more wins followed in as many seasons, and he was joined for almost three of those years by Max Verstappen, who had been out-performing the more experienced driver.

The youngster, having become the youngest-ever race winner on his Red Bull debut, had established himself as the number one, so Ricciardo left for Renault.

Two podiums in his magnificent year in 2020 were followed by his move to McLaren in a surprise move that was announced after just one season with the French team.

Fast forward to now, and one of a few moments of joy on track for the 33-year-old was last year’s victory at Monza.

Other than that, his results have not been enough to keep him as part of the team, and his deficit to Lando Norris earned him some public criticism from CEO Zak Brown.

Ultimately, the eight-time race winner’s style did not suit the challenging characteristics of the McLaren car, and he and the team have agreed to part ways at the end of the season.

So, where does he go next? Ricciardo has made it abundantly clear in his interviews that, while he wants to stay in Formula 1, he will only do so if he secures a competitive drive.

AlphaTauri could end up with two seats available at the end of the year if Pierre Gasly ends up at Alpine, from whom Fernando Alonso is joining Aston Martin to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel next season.

It was thought that Oscar Piastri would be taking the Spaniard’s place, but he has signed with McLaren to replace Ricciardo, depending the outcome of Alpine’s case at the contract recognition board (CRB) which is expected on Thursday.

Alpine are understood to have made contact with Gasly about filling their vacant position alongside Esteban Ocon in 2023, but if Red Bull insist on keeping the 26-year-old until the end of next season, a return to Enstone could be on the cards for Ricciardo.

Indeed, the French side are at the top of the midfield this season, 20 points ahead of McLaren, so it could very well be a favourable move for the Aussie.

The irony remains in his move to Renault in 2019 after they finished fourth in the championship in 2018, with McLaren not performing well enough in Ricciardo’s eyes, only for the British team to finish ahead of Renault that season.

It could well be that Alpine are surpassed again by the Woking squad next year, and of course that Ricciardo helps them beat his old side this year too, but he has proven that he is still a driver of immense quality.

Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer stated previously that he would be open to Ricciardo making a return, but any such deal would not be on terms as favourable to the former Red Bull driver as they were previously.

That is the most competitive option for Ricciardo, much more so than his other potential openings at AlphaTauri or Haas, where Mick Schumacher is out of contract at the end of this year.

AlphaTauri are currently eighth in the Drivers’ Standings, and neither Gasly nor Yuki Tsunoda, who is out of contract at the end of this season, have scored in any of the last six races.

Should they lose Gasly, they would need another driver with a little experience to drive them on and lift them higher up the standings.

But is Ricciardo really the man to do that? In truth, no.

Sure, he knows the team well; Franz Tost is still at the helm, but he wants a drive that can assure him of podiums and race wins.

He will not get that at AlphaTauri, and it would likely not facilitate a move to Red Bull either, as they have Sergio Perez and Verstappen under contract until 2024 and 2028 respectively.

By the end of 2024, Ricciardo will be 35 years old, and racing for a junior team at that age would make little sense for a racer of his experience.

By then, Red Bull will be looking for their next young talent, so they will want more options to choose from than only Tsunoda.

Why is that? We have seen how things went for both Gasly and Alex Albon alongside Verstappen, so they will need multiple drivers with F1 experience to join their ranks, but also drivers who have long careers ahead of them.

That is not to suggest that Tsunoda would not succeed at Red Bull if he went there, but getting the likes of Liam Lawson, Juri Vips and Dennis Hauger involved in the programme by then would be favourable for the years to come.

READ: McLaren reveal Daniel Ricciardo had inferior car at Spa

Of course, Ricciardo may yet have seven, eight or more years to go in F1, but Christian Horner previously remarked that a Sebastian Vettel return, after he was dropped by Ferrari, would be like getting back with an ex – it would be similar with Ricciardo.

AlphaTauri’s main purpose in the Red Bull family is to develop young talent and get them ready for the Milton Keynes operation, so Ricciardo simply would not fit into that.

For that reason, it is looking like Alpine, Haas or bust for Ricciardo, because a move back to the Faenza-based squad would simply not be suitable for either of them.