Ricciardo still has point to prove despite contract safety net

Daniel Ricciardo may have a contract safety net for next year but that counts for nothing in his eyes

Daniel Ricciardo may have a contract safety net for next year but that counts for nothing in his eyes. Image: James Bearne/XPB

Daniel Ricciardo is refusing to rest on his laurels following his latest F1 comeback despite being handed the safety net of a new contract for next season.

Following a five-race lay-off after breaking a bone in his left hand in seven places, Ricciardo returned for AlphaTauri across the United States Grand Prix weekend at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas.

It was not the comeback the 34-year-old Australian had hoped for as he was 12th in the sprint and followed that up with 15th in the main event on Sunday, although brake duct damage was a contributing factor to him finishing last of those classified.

In Mexico City, however, Ricciardo underlined just why, during his enforced lay-off, the Red Bull hierarchy gave him a full-time deal with AlphaTauri for next year following a two-race pre-summer break cameo on his initial comeback in Hungary and Belgium.

At face value, it would be easy for Ricciardo to now coast through the remainder of this season, building up his knowledge of the team and the car in the process, knowing he has a guaranteed seat for 2024, but that is far from the case.

Suggested to Ricciardo by Speedcafe that he was racing with a degree of freedom through to the end of this campaign given the deal in place, he insisted that was not his mindset.

“It’s nice to know, and I feel a lot better that I’m racing next year and I know where I’ll be,” said Ricciardo.

“But I still feel like I’m fighting. You are always fighting for something in this sport, always trying to prove a point or impress someone else.

“It’s nice to be back but I’m not just going to sail through the rest of this year and be like, ‘Oh, whatever’.”

For Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, Ricciardo’s performance around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was nothing less than he expected.

Ricciardo delivered a stunning display in qualifying on Saturday to line up fourth, splitting Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, with the gap to the three-time F1 champion just 0.119secs.

In the race, after battling for a number of laps with Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes, Ricciardo appeared nailed-on to land fifth until a red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s heavy crash in his Haas undermined the earlier fine drive, resulting in him taking the chequered flag in seventh.

Despite that, Horner said: “It was great to see Daniel performing so well and fully endorsing the reason why we brought him back into AlphaTauri just prior to the summer break.

“I thought he was outstanding this weekend fighting a Mercedes in an AlphaTauri, and had it not been for the red flag, he would have probably finished yet further up. So a great, great performance from him.”

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