–by Mark Cipolloni–
Daniel Ricciardo, who earned a reported US$24 million pay-off after being dumped one season early by McLaren last year, is seeing his options diminish to land a F1 driver seat.
The Aussie ace, whose only victory for McLaren was the 2021 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, was left playing second fiddle to British team-mate Lando Norris as he struggled to adapt to the car.
The 33-year-old’s gap year this season will see him behind a F1 wheel at the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in September.
Red Bull’s 12-hour promotional event, named Red Bull Formula Nurburgring, will see the Perth-born racer take to the legendary 13.04-mile track in Germany on 9 September.
Although the race weekend will feature Red Bull cars from a variety of racing series, Ricciardo is set to become the first driver to tackle the track in a modern-day F1 car since Germany’s record-breaking Michael Schumacher steered a Mercedes around one lap ahead of the 24-hour Nurburgring in 2013.
However, Ricciardo will not be able to get full race pace around the Nordschleife because of safety concerns to the driver and car. There’s insufficient run-off to slow down an out-of-control F1 vehicle. The wooded landscape also makes it tricky should a car need to be retrieved following an accident.
The near-fatal crash by Austrian legend Niki Lauda at the 1976 Nurburgring race signalled the final time for F1 cars to competitively speed around the Nordschleife at full throttle.
Technology may have come on leaps and bounds since then, but the speeds achieved over the showcase Red Bull Formula Nurburgring event will be toned down although will be extremely fast.
Speed is of the essence for Ricciardo if he wishes to return to the grid next season, instead of being relegated to the sidelines as Red Bull’s test and development driver for the 2023 campaign.
The popular Australian’s F1 future is limited by the small selection of seats on offer for the 2024 season. He turned down offers from both the Haas and Williams teams to return to Red Bull. This has led to speculation that he could eventually replace Mexican Sergio Perez or even Dutch-Belgian star Max Verstappen.
The eight-time Grand Prix winner, explained to British TV show Top Gear that he believes he can still demand attention from the leading teams.
Ricciardo, who spent two miserable seasons with McLaren, claimed: “It doesn’t scare me [a lack of available driver seats], it’s always been like that.
“I knew this was going to be a risk, obviously removing myself from a seat. It’s clear what I don’t want. I don’t want [just] any seat next year. I don’t want to just start from zero, and kind of build my career from scratch.
“It’s not coming from an arrogant place, but I’m just past that. I don’t think that’s going to stimulate me, or give me that second wind I’m looking for.
“So it makes the top seats even scarcer, but that’s where I know I will be able to perform at my best and thrive.”
F1 fans will be keeping a close eye on where the self-exiled driver could end up, with top Australia betting apps like Unibet offering numerous teams for the popular driver. Putting money on what colors Ricciardo could be sporting heading into 2024 seems to be narrowed down to the Alfa Romeo, Haas and Red Bull teams.
Ricciardo could be a realistic option for Alfa Romeo, especially given Audi’s future involvement with the team.
He also remains on the radar of Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, who came to such prominence in Netflix’s popular series Drive to Survive.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner has enthused how Ricciardo is rediscovering his passion for the sport in his current part-time role where he is pocketing US$2.1 million, and their working relationship is top-notch.
However, Ricciardo hasn’t taken his eye off the ball this season despite not having a seat. He’s also been busy working on improving his brand as well as concentrating on an F1 Hulu movie, which will ultimately lead to endorsement opportunities should he take over one of the coveted F1 seats.