Where Will Ricciardo Go? Red Bull Man to ‘Talk to Honda’ Before Decision
Now that Red Bull has officially announced it will switch to Honda engines for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, all eyes in Formula One are on Daniel Ricciardo. Will he stay at Red Bull or will he go to another team?
While at the French Grand Prix, Ricciardo said he would first have to “talk to Honda” before making his decision. “Next week, Red Bull will push for a decision from me,” he said. “I want to talk to Honda to better understand the transition to their engine. I’m trying to put the puzzle together but I’m optimistic.”
The current driver market is full of possibilities. Both Hamilton and Bottas have yet to renew with Mercedes, Alonso and Räikkönen are widely believed to be on their way out of the sport after 2018, and several underperforming drivers — Grosjean at Haas, Sirotkin at Williams, and Hartley at Toro Rosso for instance — have cause to worry about the security of their seats.
What’s more, Renault’s Carlos Sainz is merely on loan from Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s sister team, and would presumably be recalled to Red Bull should Ricciardo choose to leave. So where would the Aussie go?
Ricciardo is already in a top three team and has had the taste of victory on several occasions. He has a young teammate who some believe Red Bull is favoring and he is desperate to get himself in a championship-winning car, which leaves him with only two real choices: Mercedes or Ferrari.
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But Mercedes has every reason to want to hang on to a superstar like Hamilton and even to Bottas, a driver who is good but not so good as to complicate the team atmosphere like Nico Rosberg had done when he challenged — and in 2016, beat — Hamilton to the championship. Mercedes may find hiring Ricciardo not to be in its best interest.
A move to Ferrari seems to hold more water because of the widely held belief that Räikkönen is finally retiring, but the arrival of rookie and Ferrari protégé Charles Leclerc to F1 has also complicated matters. Leclerc is currently making himself look very good in the Ferrari-powered Sauber and could be the one to grab Räikkönen’s seat next year, which would conveniently open up a spot at Sauber for the Italian and Ferrari-backed driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
McLaren may also have an open spot in 2019 if the frustrated Fernando Alonso leaves to IndyCar for good in his pursuit of the triple crown of motorsports, but it would most likely be a step backward for Ricciardo — and McLaren is keen on promoting its star junior driver, Lando Norris, as soon as possible.
So what options does that leave for Ricciardo? Nobody is quite sure what is happening at Williams, and despite its heritage, it’s doubtful any driver seeking championship glory would want to join the troubled team at the current time.
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One interesting option would be to trade places with Sainz at Renault, which has been steadily on the rise for the past few years, and has the ambition of soon fighting for championships. But Red Bull is the better team right now, and switching to Renault would primarily be a gamble where the winner is the one that turns out to have the better engine.
And so we are back to Honda. If Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda proves to be the right one, then leaving the team could be as bad for Ricciardo as Alonso leaving Ferrari after 2014. Moreover, Red Bull wouldn’t have made the switch if it hadn’t believed it would be for the better, and the team is already quite competitive in the championship.
It’s also notable that last year, Max Verstappen was reportedly convinced to stay with Red Bull after having made a visit to the Honda racing factory.
It would not be surprising if after all these months of speculation and deliberation, Ricciardo simply chooses to stay with Red Bull, the team that brought him into F1 in the first place — and that, let’s not forget, won four championships on the trot from 2010 to 2013.