With the 2023 Formula 1 season rapidly approaching, attention is already switching to 2024 and one driver in particular, Daniel Ricciardo.
The fan favourite has, of course, returned to Red Bull for 2023, where the 33-year-old will occupy the role of development driver, with the occasional Grand Prix appearance as a reserve driver when Red Bull Junior driver Liam Lawson is tied-up in Japan competing in Super Formula.
This year looks set to be a real step-away from the F1 circus for Ricciardo, who expressed his desire for some time away from the sport towards the end of last season.
Life hasn’t been easy for the Aussie since leaving Red Bull at the end of 2018, with his F1 journey since then having taken him to Renault and McLaren.
Whilst both spells only lasted two years, Ricciardo appears to reflect upon them very differently, with the eight-time race winner believing that his final year at Renault in 2020 was one of his best.
His time at McLaren was anything but, with his victory at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix having worked as the perfect distraction for what was an unfunctional relationship.
Ricciardo and Lando Norris’ bond cannot be faltered, with the duo having behaved more like brothers, than friends, let alone team-mates.
His unfunctional relationship was with the tools the Woking-based team gave the driver, with Ricciardo having never looked comfortable with what he was driving.
Understandably, McLaren and himself agreed to part ways, resulting in his 2023 deal being terminated, leaving the Aussie to become a marketing asset for Red Bull.
Given his bubbly persona and unbreakable smile, Ricciardo will do wonders for Red Bull’s marketing campaigns in America; however, selling merch isn’t what he should be doing; he should be behind the wheel.
On his day, Ricciardo remains one of the best; at least that’s what many believe.
He had options to remain on the grid for 2023 at Haas in particular, but the Australian was keen for time to reflect and re-energise, ahead of a potential return to full-time racing in 2024.
Saying you’re going to return and then actually doing it are two completely different things in the sport, especially when the driver market is as competitive as it currently is.
To further decrease Ricciardo’s chances of returning, he has expressed his intentions on returning to the front of the field and being amongst the fight for podiums and victories, something that only a select few get the opportunity to do.
Weirdly, though, returning to F1 in a frontrunning team next year does look possible, with the Aussie being in the best place in 2023 for him to do so.
With Ferrari’s line-up looking secure until 2025 and with Lewis Hamilton preparing to sign a new contract with Mercedes, Red Bull looks like the only team at the front that the Perth-born driver could break into, under exceptional circumstances.
Should Sergio Pérez fail to perform or continue to clash with Max Verstappen, then Ricciardo might have the power and influence to take the Mexican’s place, something Verstappen would likely support.
Checo needs to start the season well, especially given how rare it is to have a race winner looking over your shoulder, for which Ricciardo most definitely is.
Looking at Ricciardo’s potential options for 2024, Red Bull ultimately looks like the most realistic option, given not only the team’s relationship with the driver, but also Verstappen’s friendship with him.
If Pérez performs well, then Ricciardo will struggle to return in 2024, unless he’s prepared to accept a seat towards the back of the grid, something Mick Schumacher is more likely to do than him.