Daniel Ricciardo has been vehement about rumors about his future in Formula One, insisting he has no intention of leaving the sport and is determined to fulfill his contract with McLaren.
The Australian’s job has been put to the test over the past two months, with Ricciardo enduring a dismal start to his second season with the British team.
The 33-year-old has finished just three times in the first 11 rounds, where drivers earn Championship points, and has accumulated just 17 points as a result.
Daniel Ricciardo’s future at McLaren remains in the dark after a disappointing season so far
In contrast, teammate Lando Norris has 67 points thanks to eight top-10 finishes, including McLaren’s only podium of the season.
Ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix in May, team boss Zak Brown acknowledged Ricciardo had not lived up to expectations and hinted there were “mechanisms” in the Australian’s contract that could see the team leave him before his Contract expires at the end of 2023.
Ricciardo and McLaren held a clear meeting last month and the eight-time Grand Prix winner has repeatedly reiterated his commitment to the team.
For all its fight talk, however, McLaren has been working behind the scenes to find a replacement and given test drives to some of the talented young drivers currently on their books.
Here, sports mail takes a look at who could take over Ricciardo’s seat as early as next season.
Ricciardo (left) has addressed his Formula 1 future by insisting he is going nowhere – responding to speculation in a post on his social media platform on Wednesday (right).
One of the rising stars in McLaren’s roster, Herta is the youngest driver to win a race at IndyCar, having claimed seven wins and 10 podiums in 57 races over the past five seasons.
The 22-year-old, who is well regarded across the F1 paddock, was linked with a move to Alfa Romeo last year and previously spent two days testing a 2021 McLaren at Portimao – where the Portuguese GP has been held for the past two seasons Week.
“Colton is a proven talent at IndyCar and we’ll be excited to see how he adapts to a Formula 1 car,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl.
The youngest driver to win an IndyCar race, Colton Herta is held in high regard in the F1 paddock
‘We believe this testing program will provide him with valuable experience while demonstrating the advantage of extending previous car tests to present promising drivers for the future.’
Like Ricciardo’s contract at McLaren, Herta’s contract with Andretti Autosport expires at the end of 2023 and if he performs well in testing he could be high on the list of candidates for McLaren.
Having an American driver on the grid would boost the already rapid growth of Formula 1 in the US.
O’Ward, another IndyCar driver with ambitions to enter Formula 1, has long been touted as a potential replacement for Ricciardo.
The 23-year-old has won three races and secured 11 podiums from 47 starts and competed with McLaren in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Young Drivers’ Test last year.
However, the window for a possible move to Formula 1 may have closed before it even opened after the Arrow McLaren SP driver signed a new contract in May to stay with IndyCar until 2025.
IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward has won three races and secured 11 podiums in 47 starts
At the end of last year, the Mexican told auto sport that a move to Formula 1 would have to happen fairly soon, if it were to happen at all.
“I probably still have a maximum of two years to get into the F1 scene. We don’t have much time left,’ he said.
“I’ll do anything to make it because it’s the top of the top.”
McLaren’s latest signing signed with the team on Wednesday.
Reigning IndyCar champion Palou will join McLaren starting next season after his current contract with Chip Ganassi Racing expires at the end of the 2022 season.
Like fellow IndyCar stars Herta and O’Ward, the Spaniard’s deal with McLaren includes him testing last year’s MCL35M car.
Interestingly, in the press release welcoming Palou to McLaren, Brown made no mention of continuing to race at IndyCar.
Reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou (pictured July 3) signed with McLaren on Wednesday
Whether that means the Spaniard will move to Formula 1 remains to be seen, but the McLaren boss was optimistic about Palou’s prospects.
“I look forward to seeing him at the wheel of a Formula 1 car […] alongside Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta as we continue to develop our driving talent,” he said.
“Alex is an incredibly talented driver who has won every series he has raced in and I am delighted to welcome him to the McLaren family.”
McLaren could well have an Australian driver next season, except it could be Piastri instead of Ricciardo if his agent Mark Webber has his way.
Alpine’s reserve driver has been linked with a move to Williams to replace the ailing Nicholas Latifi mid-season and his name has also been circulated as a potential candidate to succeed Fernando Alonso at Alpine next year.
However, Piastri is yet to sign Williams and on Sunday, sky F1 Webber was reportedly working to have the 21-year-old replace his fellow Australian at McLaren.
As world champions in F3 and F2, Piastri seems destined for a future in F1 and with Alonso’s future yet to be decided, promotion within Alpine cannot be ruled out either.
Expect another dose of Aussie Grit sooner or later.
Oscar Piastri won both F3 and F2 world titles before becoming Alpine’s reserve driver
While it seems accepted that Ricciardo’s eventual replacement will be a younger driver, McLaren could also choose to go down a completely different route and pair Lando Norris with an experienced driver.
Sebastian Vettel meets the experience and pedigree requirements and most importantly will be a free agent at the end of the season.
However, the four-time world champion has struggled with Aston Martin this season and McLaren should perhaps think twice before settling on a driver who is likely to command a far higher salary than Herta, Palou, Piastri and O’Ward.
Sebastian Vettel has not ruled out retiring from Formula 1 at the end of the 2022 season
Vettel will be 36 by the start of next season and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of retiring at the end of the current season.
“The future depends on this year and the upcoming races,” he said last month.
‘I haven’t decided yet. Summer is the usual time when you start talking, so we’ll see.’
A former champion of the sport who just finds himself in a car fighting for competition – strange things have been happening.
Should McLaren find Herta, Palou, Piastri and O’Ward too raw and Vettel too old, Albon could turn out to be a decent compromise.
The British-Thai driver has impressed in a flash since returning to F1 with Williams this season after losing his place on the grid at the end of the 2020 season and acting as a reserve driver for Red Bull last year.
Albon would almost certainly accept his role as No. 2 behind Norris while also giving McLaren a chance to develop one of their young drivers for at least another season.
Alex Albon has impressed in a flash since deciding to return to F1 with Williams this season