Daniel Ricciardo has admitted he may be left without a race seat on the 2023 grid.
For many in the paddock, while the Australian’s newly-terminated McLaren contract for next year may have involved Zak Brown writing him a big pay-off cheque, Ricciardo’s demise is sad news.
“Maybe I have too much empathy for a Formula 1 driver, but I’m very saddened to hear what’s happening to Daniel. I think it’s a very, very difficult situation to be in,” said Sebastian Vettel, who was the 33-year-old’s teammate at Red Bull.
“I don’t know the details, but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has. And it’s sad to see that he’s been put in a difficult position.”
Indeed, while Ricciardo has been linked with a return to F1’s Renault-owned works team (Alpine), he may struggle even to extract a contract signature from Haas.
“Everyone thinks that we have to take Daniel, but maybe we don’t want him,” team boss Gunther Steiner said in Belgium.
“We have to be careful here, because it’s not just about what he’s done so far in his career but also about what he can still do,” the Haas chief added.
“Everyone is interesting to us. We look at all the possible candidates.”
With race seats scarce elsewhere, Ricciardo admitted on Thursday that he has arrived at a “big moment in time for my career”.
He insists he wants to keep racing in Formula 1, but only if he can do that “competitively”.
“I want to do it in the right place. I never said I want to just be a driver to make up the numbers,” said Ricciardo. “If I’m here, I want to be here for a purpose.
“I don’t know what that means yet for the future, but if it’s the right opportunity, then this is where I want to be.”
It could be that the absence of the ‘right opportunity’ leads him to F1’s exit door – or require him to sit out a full season in 2023.
“If it made sense?” Ricciardo answered when asked about the potential of a sabbatical. “Yes, if it makes sense.
“F1 is what I love and it’s where I see myself if I’m doing any racing. If the stars don’t align and it doesn’t make perfect sense next year, and if it means taking that time off to kind of reset or re-evaluate, then I’m willing to.”
He also insists that he has no hard feelings towards his fellow Australians Oscar Piastri and the 21-year-old’s manager Mark Webber, even if it is not confirmed yet that Piastri is replacing him at McLaren.
“I honestly still don’t know what the future holds for Oscar,” Ricciardo said. “I’m assuming that he is kind of guaranteed a spot on the grid next year somewhere.
“But it’s just business and obviously Mark’s just doing his job for Oscar. So I don’t take any of that personally. It’s certainly not the outcome I wanted, but it’s the reality.”