McLaren is preparing to trigger a clause that will cut Daniel Ricciardo loose of his Formula 1 contract for 2023, according to Australia’s only world champion.
Alan Jones, who won the title in 1980, suspects recent statements made by McLaren CEO Zak Brown indicate the Woking based team is eyeing a more competitive driver for the seat alongside Lando Norris next year.
Ricciardo, 32, insisted in Monaco that his current deal does extend into 2023 – with sources indicating that only the Australian himself can end the deal before it naturally expires late next year.
2009 world champion Jenson Button thinks Brown’s statements about Ricciardo have been astonishing.
“Zak is his own man and I can’t change his thoughts and what he says, but I was surprised that he came out and said that,” he told Sky.
“Everyone with the team should be protecting these drivers.”
With the rumours already swirling as he arrived in Monaco, eagle-eyed spectators saw the new acronym “FEA” had suddenly appeared on Ricciardo’s helmet livery.
Ricciardo did not deny that it stands for “F*** ‘Em All”.
“I had that on my helmet back in 2018,” he explained to the German broadcaster RTL.
“I like using acronyms to motivate myself – it’s honestly not aimed at anyone. It’s something I’ve been saying for years and it puts me in my happy place.
“It reminds me to get into the tunnel and my zone.”
Countryman Alan Jones, however, clearly thinks it’s a sign that fellow world champion Jacques Villeneuve’s suspicions are right that Ricciardo’s time at McLaren “is over”.
“If he doesn’t improve quickly, I don’t see him there much longer, to be honest,” Jones told the Herald Sun newspaper.
As for the supposed 2023 contract, the 75-year-old added: “A contract doesn’t mean much in Formula 1.
“If the situation stays like this, I have no doubt that McLaren will pull one of the options in the contract.”
Ricciardo won eight grands prix during his competitive stint at Red Bull, but since leaving that team and moving on to Renault and now McLaren, his star has faded dramatically.
“He’s a great racer and a nice guy, but we all know that nice guys don’t get anywhere in Formula 1,” said Jones.
“If you’re a bigger d***, you’re better off and there are quite a few drivers in Formula 1 at the moment that prove it.”