POLL: Will Ricciardo make a full-time F1 return?
By Mat Coch
Monday 28th November, 2022 - 3:00pm
Daniel Ricciardo has joined Red Bull as Third Driver in a move that keeps him in Formula 1, but will it help him return to a full-time race drive?
That’s what we’re asking in this week’s Pirtek Poll: will Ricciardo return to the F1 grid?
Last Wednesday, Red Bull confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in the paddock as the Australian was announced as rejoining the team with which he won seven grands prix.
Of course, the news was already well out of the can by that stage.
As early as the Singapore Grand Prix in early October it was clear that there was a choice of two potential berths, and even then Red Bull was always the front-runner.
That’s not to say Mercedes didn’t have a competitive horse in the race, but the fundamental reason Ricciardo wasn’t chasing a race seat is the same reason that made Red Bull the most appealing option.
In short, he is looking for something comfortable, safe and familiar. A place where he can reignite his passion because, while he says that fire still burns brightly, the flame has dulled over the last two years.
A year out, time to think and assess, time to train and relax, time to spend being a son and an uncle rather than a jet-setting racecar driver.
Ricciardo wants a return to a somewhat normal life, or as near to it as he might ever get.
While that’s the immediate motivation, there is a longer-term game at play here, and that is keeping the door open to a potential full-time drive in 2024.
The problem is, as previously explored by Speedcafe.com, options seem few and far between.
Aside from the likes of Haas, Williams or Sauber, there are precious few berths that will likely be available for 2024 that weren’t available in 2023.
If Ricciardo is firm on his ‘front-of-the-grid’ opportunity, they are unlikely to be forthcoming.
Nico Hulkenberg has rejoined with Haas. When he stepped out of a full-time drive he was at Renault, now Alpine.
Kimi Raikkonen was paid to sit out of F1 in 2010 and 2011, and when he rejoined F1 he did so with Lotus (ironically also now Alpine).
Even the great Michael Schumacher, upon his return to the grid, was with a less competitive Mercedes team than he was with when he stepped away from Ferrari.
The odds of Ricciardo securing a drive at the front of the grid are therefore unlikely, especially when one looks at the pairings currently locked into those drives.
Ferrari has a stable line-up even if there’s turbulence in the team’s management; Mercedes is settled with Lewis Hamilton expected to renew, McLaren has an exciting young pairing while Alpine has just signed Pierre Gasly into Ricciardo’s old (2020) drive.
Therefore, the front of the grid looks beyond reach, leaving only midfield options as realistic targets.
But that isn’t what Ricciardo is about. He’s a race winner, a driver accustomed to and capable of running at the front of a grand prix.
Perhaps then, the Third Driver role is less about a racing return so much as a soft way to step away from the sport – a Nigel Mansell-esque departure (the 1992 world champion still hasn’t technically announced his retirement).
Ricciardo has taken a battering over the past two years.
His self-confidence has taken a severe beating and he’s acquired a new perspective on life, one far broader that the confined horizons offered by Formula 1.
More than that, in his conversations with Speedcafe.com, he seemed excited by the opportunity to change down a gear or two in 2023. He was relaxed, happy, ‘at peace’ as he put it.
And perhaps that’s because he knows his future and is comfortable with it.
It’s possible he knows that the Formula 1 race driver phase of his life is over, even if he’s not publicly willing to confess as much just yet in case that fire is reignited next season.
A few simulator sessions, some time in an older-spec car, working on some fun activations on his terms, and suddenly the doom and gloom that has been F1 for the last couple of years disappears. Suddenly the happy memories come flooding back, and the interest in being part of the circus, even with a midfield team.
Only he will know for sure, but from the outside, what is your take? Has Daniel Ricciardo driven his last grand prix, or will he make an F1 return? Cast your vote below.