Analysis: What does the future hold for Daniel Ricciardo?
Daniel Ricciardo is faced with an interesting situation in 2017 – with a new contract till the end of 2020 under his belt, Max Verstappen just took the third race victory of his career, his second in four races.
Verstappen recently signed a contract with Red Bull till the end of 2020. With seats available at Mercedes and Ferrari at the end of 2018, Red Bull must have an engine or a car that was enough to convince him to stay, because questions still linger over which engine Red Bull with have from 2018 onwards.
Ricciardo by no means is an inferior driver to Verstappen. Verstappen although widely believed as the quicker driver still doesn’t have the mature race craft that Ricciardo possesses. But with the recent activity in the Red Bull camp, many are led to believe that they are supporting the Dutchman over the Australian.
Red Bull director Helmut Marko also recently stated that Ricciardo was on the market. Implying that the team believes that Verstappen will be the lead driver for the years to come.
Further questions were raised after Red Bull installed the latest Renault engine in Verstappen’s car and not Ricciardo’s without notifying him. Ricciardo claimed that he only knew of this after he read it online.
Red Bull attempted to clarify that they didn’t think it was worth notifying him because they didn’t think it would be much of a performance gain.
But looking at recent results, it looks like the new engine does have significantly better performance.
The next move Ricciardo makes will decide the legacy of his career. Although a Sebastian Vettel-Mark Webber situation will not happen with Ricciardo because the performance gap between him and Verstappen is much slimmer, Verstappen will consistently be getting better treatment during the weekend. So where does he go?
Stay at Red Bull:
After the Mexican Grand Prix, Christian Horner said, “We’ve got Daniel under contract to the end of last year, and of course we’d like to get that extended sooner rather than later.
“At the opportune moment we’ll sit down and go through it with Daniel.
“There’s a great respect between the two of them, a great dynamic between the two of them. They get on out of the car as well. For me, it’s the best line-up in Formula 1 and one we want to keep long-term.”
But Ricciardo truly want to stay?
Ricciardo recently publicly claimed, "I don't think it [Max's new contract] has hurt me in anyway, if anything it has made my position a bit stronger. I am sure if Max was on the radar at Ferrari or Mercedes, that has removed on opponent in a way."
He denied claims that Red Bull is turning into Max’s team, but acknowledged the team's dream to make Verstappen the youngest ever World Champion.
He also said, "I can be patient for now and see. I have the start of next season on my side in terms I can see where we are at as well. And then play it out. I am not going to pull the trigger on anything early. I can take my time.''
Move to Ferrari:
A move to Ferrari is certainly on the table. But will Sebastian Vettel allow it? Vettel apparently has a veto on the decision of who his teammate is.
Vettel is under contract with the Maranello team until the end of the 2020 season.
Kimi Raikkonen, 38, also signed a new 1-year deal this year until the end of the 2018 season. Vettel has publicly claimed that Raikkonen is the best teammate he has ever had. But Raikkonen’s future is still insecure, his performances this year have been below par.
Or how both Flavio Briatore and Paul Di Resta put it, “Ferrari can’t win a Constructors Championship with Raikkonen.”
Ferrari managed to produce a race-winning car this year, and it could have won Vettel the title had he not had the failure in Japan and the crash in Singapore.
Ferrari is claimed to be Vettel’s team, but after 4-titles in a row - Red Bull was firmly established as Vettel’s team until Ricciardo replaced Webber and beat Vettel outright in every category, taking three race victories to the German’s none in 2014.
But when asked if Ricciardo can be a possible teammate at Ferrari, Vettel did say, “I don’t mind him. I like him.”
Ferrari also have numerous young drivers who can replace Raikkonen.
And will Ferrari want a driver who can challenge Vettel, after their long history and philosophy of having a clear first and second driver. And if they do, will Vettel allow it?
Move to Mercedes:
Mercedes has won the double for the last four years. With Mercedes still having the lead engine in the hybrid era, it will continue to be a title contender for a few more years.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are currently under contract till the end of the 2018 season. But after a record-breaking season for Hamilton, it’s very likely that he will sign a new contract at least until the end of the current hybrid era.
Hamilton is also in no mood to retire like Nico Rosberg and believes that there is more to come for him.
With Hamilton likely to stay, does Mercedes keep Bottas?
Bottas has performed extremely well, taking race wins in Russia and Austria and helping Mercedes to a fourth consecutive constructors’ title. But he hasn’t challenged Hamilton like Rosberg could. Although he was also a title contender till half-way through the season, his performance since then have been poor to say the least.
Force India driver Esteban Ocon is a Mercedes’ young driver and can be a replacement for Bottas but Mercedes might want an older and mature driver.
Ricciardo can also be a replacement. Ricciardo has openly claimed his desire to race alongside Hamilton, and Hamilton also added, “I would love to have Daniel as a teammate.”
Maybe something for Mercedes to consider for 2018 onwards.
Move to Renault:
Renault has had a great performance gain over the past two years, and they are clearly focusing on becoming a top team again in Formula 1.
Renault wanted to sign Fernando Alonso for 2018 but also told him that they couldn’t produce a championship winning car for 2018. He eventually signed with McLaren. But Renault can certainly produce a championship winning car for 2019 onwards.
Although Renault signed Carlos Sainz from the Red Bull B-Team, Toro Rosso, they initially offered for Ricciardo. However, it’s not all done for Renault. Sainz has only been ‘loaned’ to Renault by Red Bull for 1 year.
Sainz’s seat will be up for grabs at the end of 2018, when Ricciardo’s contract expires. With Nico Hulkenberg in the other seat, both drivers will be served equally.
If Renault can consistently finish on the podiums in 2018, it will certainly be a hot prospect for Ricciardo.
Where does he go?
His decision will be based on one factor: equal service.
Horner believes that his best change of equality is at Red Bull, “I think he really enjoys being within the team. He really fits the image of the team; the character that he is, the personality that he is.
“He knows that he gets equal opportunity here. He wouldn’t be a subservient driver. I think that absolutely counts, and when he considers his options, upon reflection, he’ll know where he’s best off.”
But considering Red Bull’s history with Vettel and Webber, that is probably not the likely scenario.
The best choice for Ricciardo will be to move on, but the question is where.