The likelihood of Daniel Ricciardo being on the F1 grid in 2023 is now slimmer than ever after French driver Pierre Gasly confirmed he will leave Alpha Tauri to replace two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso at Alpine next season.
Dutchman Nyck de Vries, who made his Formula One debut standing in for Williams’ Alex Albon at last month’s Italian Grand Prix, will replace Gasly at Alpha Tauri.
Alpine was the last remaining competitive seat that would have suited Ricciardo who had his McLaren contract town up in September.
Only Haas and Williams are yet to confirm their drivers for next year.
Seemingly the best option now for Ricciardo is to look for a reserve opportunity with an elite team and target a full-time return to the grid in 2024.
The Australian has been spotted inside the Mercedes garage in recent weeks with whispers he will spend next year alongside Lewis Hamilton and George Russell getting louder.
Australia will, at this stage, have just one driver on the grid with Oscar Piastri replacing his compatriot at McLaren.
QUALIFYING FOR THE JAPAN GRAND PRIX WILL START AT 5PM AEST
Gasly, who has been with the Red Bull stable since making his Formula One debut with Toro Rosso in 2017, will line up with countryman Esteban Ocon at Alpine.
Gasly, 26, said it was “emotionally very special” to join the French team, who are locked in a close contest for fourth place with McLaren in this season’s constructors’ championship.
“What motivated me was the development of Alpine over the past three years, their performance constantly improving,” said Gasly, whose only Formula One win came at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix.
“They won their first race last year and this season they have been fighting to be the fourth force. They have a complete package and similar ambitions to mine.” Ocon won last season’s Hungarian Grand Prix to give Alpine their first race victory.
Alonso, 41, will leave the team to join Aston Martin on a multi-year contract, taking the seat vacated by the imminent retirement of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Gasly said he was “happy and impatient” to get started with Alpine.
“As a driver, the most important thing is to be in a car that allows you to show your talent to the fullest,” he said.
“I think with Alpine, I will have the best chance of being able to perform.”
Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer said there were three key reasons they wanted Gasly on their books.
“Speed, experience and he’s young,” he said on Sky F1.
“He’s really happy to come to Alpine, our work is different to AlphaTauri he was really keen to come.
“We talked to both drivers before we made the decision and they were happy to work together. They’re professionals, they will work together like any others.”
Gasly will be replaced at Alpha Tauri by de Vries, who claimed 13th place at the Italian Grand Prix standing in for Albon, who came down with appendicitis.
The 27-year-old has won world titles in Formula Two and Formula E and said he was “extremely excited” to join Alpha Tauri.
“I’ve had a lot of chances to experience the 2022 car this year and I think that has put me in a great position for the upcoming season,” said de Vries.
“I hope this has helped to prepare me for what is to come.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE TRACK?
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton made it a Mercedes one-two ahead of title-chasing Max Verstappen in a soggy second practice on Friday for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Runaway Red Bull leader Verstappen can clinch his second straight world title on Sunday if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.
The Dutchman will also retain his crown if he wins and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, his nearest challenger, is third or lower.
But Verstappen was beaten to the quickest time in the second practice session by the Mercedes pair, with Russell clocking a fastest lap of 1min 41.935sec.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton followed his fellow Briton 0.235sec behind, with Verstappen coming in third, a sizeable 0.851sec behind Russell.
Leclerc finished 2.774sec behind Russell in 11th.
“It wasn’t a complete disaster with the weather,” said Verstappen. “We could at least get round and do a little bit of stuff, but in terms of knowing where you are with pace, in the wet it’s always a bit tricky.”
Originally published as F1 Japan Grand Prix qualifying time: Live results, Daniel Ricciardo’s position and trades