Daniel Ricciardo’s reveal he would sit out the 2023 F1 season rather than join backmarkers Williams or Haas has exposed a bleak reality for the Aussie as he seeks a 2024 resurrection.
Apart from a Monza win in 2021, Ricciardo’s time at McLaren has been nothing short of a disaster for the 33-year-old as he now finds himself on the outer despite the F1 world professing he deserves a spot on the grid.
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But after the Alpine domino finally fell with Pierre Gasly giving the French outfit an all Frenchman team for 2023, Ricciardo confirmed he would sit out next season with reports he’s set to link up with Mercedes as the team’s reserve driver.
Ricciardo may hope for a chance to come up on the team but it could also be wishful thinking as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff claimed the 37-year-old Lewis Hamilton could race for another five years.
The Aussie has long coveted a seat at the front of the grid with which he could compete for a world championship but has never quite got there, while his gamble to go to Renault and then McLaren has not quite paid off in on-track performances.
But while Ricciardo is always the optimist, others are not so certain about his ability to get back on the grid.
Leading F1 journalist and presenter Will Buxton said Ricciardo’s option to take a year off “doesn’t make sense to me”.
“I genuinely don’t understand the reasoning,” Buxton tweeted. “If his hope is of moving up where does he go? Even if he takes Merc reserve there won’t be a race seat in 2024. RBR & Ferrari are solid, so now are Alpine, and McLaren… that ship’s sailed.
“People say ‘look at Hulk’, but he’s sat on the sidelines and ended up with a few rushed stand ins and now a shot at Haas, a team along with Williams it seems Daniel has no interest in pursuing despite open seats for 23. So what does he get out of it? And will he race in F1 again?
“I’d argue he stands to gain nothing. And I worry he won’t race in F1 again, certainly not for a team in the top half of the grid, & stands to waste some brilliantly competitive years waiting for a half chance when he could and should be in a race car showing us the Daniel we know.
“If the F1 dream is over, sooner he makes peace with it and finds a new lease of life in a championship where he can be competitive. That’s why I’d have loved to see him in IndyCar. Not sat in the back of a garage twiddling his thumbs.”
Buxton isn’t the only one worried Ricciardo will never make it back.
Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 World Champion, said Ricciardo is taking another gamble by being off the grid for a year.
“Being a third driver for someone of his calibre, it’s a very, very strange situation he’s found himself in,” Button told Sky Sports.
“I don’t know what he would get out of being a third driver. He’s not a young driver, so he can’t drive the car next year in race weekends (free practice), it has to be a young driver. So he wouldn’t really get anything out of it.
“I guess he’ll probably think ‘well, Lewis might retire and then I’ll jump in his seat’, but Lewis says he’s going to be around for five years.
“So he would be waiting a long time.
“So it needs to be the team where he thinks he can get a seat for 2024, otherwise it’s game over because you get forgotten after a year in F1.”
It comes after Ricciardo confirmed Gasly’s move would mean he would be off the grid for 2023 following qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
“I think the reality is now I won‘t be on the grid in 2023,” he told reporters after the qualifying session at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday.
“I think it’s now just trying to set up for 2024.
“I think that there could be some better opportunities then, so that‘s really what all this confirms and now where the sights are set.
“To be honest, the Gasly news I was aware of. I knew they were they were talking for a while and I knew though they were very interested in Pierre.
“Let‘s say I was prepared for that and (it was) no surprise, so we were trying to navigate our way around that and figure out what was next.”
His manager Nick Thimm spilled on the situation when taking to Twitter on Sunday morning, insisting this is not the end of Ricciardo’s career.
“None of this is about ego, unachievable demands, or a sudden lack of opportunity,” he posted.
“This is about a man who was dealt a bad hand, now finding the right next opportunity. Uncovering a new project where he can work with a team that embraces his unique set of skills.
“A project where his experience can be applied. A process where he can reset and show his love for the game. And ultimately put himself in the best position to show the world what he’s capable of should he be given the chance. It’s a different approach yes, but it’s also a new day for the sport.
“Daniel’s maturity and experience is a matched by few on the grid; now more than ever. The honey badger will still be as close to the F1 grid as he can in 2023. He’s not done. And as we saw this season, anything can happen.”
Let’s hope the “anything can happen” is good for Ricciardo, rather than a back door exit for one of the sport’s most popular stars.