Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023

Sabbatical or retirement? Ricciardo returns to F1 paddock – and questions over his future

2023 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

Daniel Ricciardo has returned to the Formula 1 paddock at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in his new role as Red Bull’s third driver.

After losing his McLaren seat for 2023, Ricciardo signed to rejoin Red Bull last November. So far the team has only shown him acting in a promotional capacity, including recently driving a Red Bull RB7 around Australia.

But when he is trackside he will serve the same function as Liam Lawson and Dennis Hauger, the two Red Bull juniors sharing the reserve driver role and doing simulator work at the team’s F1 base in Milton Keynes, in that he will be ready to race should Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez be unable to.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Ricciardo will attend several races this year as reserve, and “probably do a bit of tyre testing” in the current RB19 car as well as simulator work. But his main duties, due to Ricciardo now being based in the USA, will be promotional work for Red Bull and its partners – such as his recent RB7 road trip.

Ricciardo is ready to drive the RB19 if needed this weekend
Last month Ricciardo remarked he’s “definitely keen to have a crack” at the Pirelli tyre tests “just to stay race fit”, but admitted he was not “foaming at the mouth yet” to return to the cockpit of an F1 car and if he was to race something else then he would only want to do it for fun.

In fact, a lot of the onus Ricciardo put on his desires for 2023 were not connected to making a race return in 2024, but using the mental space that not racing in F1 was going to afford him.

He said that over the winter he had been “really trying to savour” being able to give his full attention to activities, such as spending time with family and friends, without needing to factor in training schedules and off-season work his former teams would be giving him.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“I’m trying not to put too much stress on it [evaluating if I want to return],” Ricciardo told media including RaceFans at Red Bull’s 2023 season launch. “I really just want to let it happen naturally.”

Jones returned to F1 twice – but doubts Ricciardo will
He added: “I’m really happy to be taking the year I’m taking. At least currently where I sit, it does really feel right.”

In the weeks leading up to the F1 season, Ricciardo structured his time to wind down the ‘holiday feel’ and prepare himself for a return to work. While he aims to enjoy his new job, after 11-and-a-half years of being a professional racing driver, he made the point that this weekend’s paddock appearance could be the catalyst of reigniting his desire to return to a race seat.

So will Ricciardo find his way back into a race seat after the blow of being shown the door by McLaren a year before his contract was due to end? Alan Jones doesn’t seem to think so.

The 1980 world champion, a fellow Australian, recently said he “doubts” Ricciardo will be in F1 next year.

“At the end of the day there is probably no reason why Red Bull won’t re-sign Perez and obviously Verstappen [is already signed],” said Jones. “I can’t see anybody at Ferrari resigning or going away, so I just can’t see where he can go.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“Really, in my own opinion, I think he concentrated and spent a bit too much time for his activities out of the cockpit rather than in it,” Jones added.

Promotional duties are a big part of Ricciardo’s Red Bull role
Riccardo’s family have a farm in Western Australia, which he has brought attention to whenever he has worked on it, and he’s tried his hand at ranch work in the USA too.

His love of American sports has meant he has been seen in the stands during Buffalo Bills games, but so have a lot of his F1 peers, and his exuberant personality made him one of the biggest stars of F1’s Netflix show Drive to Survive. You can imagine programme commissioners will be seeking a way to create a new show featuring Ricciardo now he’s not on the F1 grid, particularly after putting so much focus on his exit from McLaren in the latest series. And he has an upcoming Hulu series of his own.

If Ricciardo does not find an F1 seat for 2024, history suggests his chances of a return will diminish. Only a handful of his fellow grand prix winners have spent two years out of F1 and then come back.

Niki Lauda was the first high-profile driver to do so, choosing to leave F1 in late 1979 as a two-times world champion following a season in which he had suffered 11 non-finishes. Like Ricciardo, he had passions outside of racing including his own airline, and chose to work full-time running that until McLaren enticed him out of retirement with a record salary in 1982.

Following Lauda’s example, none other than Jones retired from F1 after the 1981 season. He later regretted his decision to leave Williams, and not taking up Ferrari’s enquiry to sign him mid-season in 1982. After a one-off cameo with Arrows in 1983 he then split his time between sports car racing and (like Ricciardo) enjoying life in Australia for two years. He was later enticed back to F1 by new entrant Team Haas, which he already knew well from sports cars and CART.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Kimi Raikkonen found himself in a similar position to Ricciardo in 2009. McLaren sought another driver while Ricciardo was already contracted for 2023, and Ferrari did the same with their 2007 world champion, hiring Fernando Alonso. The outcome was Raikkonen had a two-year break, and continued to be paid by Ferrari during the first year.

Steiner refused to pay Ricciardo’s alleged $10m asking price
In that time he went off to the World Rally Championship, but then got bored and after speaking to several teams made his return to F1 with Lotus. Ricciardo has also spoken to several teams, and as an eight-times grand prix winner and superstar of the sport can put a high price on his services just as Raikkonen did.

But Ricciardo’s years with McLaren were underwhelming, and his price may be too high for some. That was the case for Haas last year, as revealed by a conversation between team principal Gunther Steiner and driver Kevin Magnussen seen in the new series of Drive to Survive: “We can’t afford him, Kevin. He wants 10 fucking million. Minimum!”

Alonso went on a two-year F1 sabbatical in 2019. He was fed up with driving an uncompetitive McLaren in F1, was already racing in the World Endurance Championship with Toyota and going for motorsport’s Triple Crown involving races out of F1, and wanted to be free to evaluate his options for when F1 overhauled its technical regulations in 2021.

While Alonso remained connected to McLaren during his sabbatical, other F1 teams knew he retained ambitions to return and he spent 2020 orchestrating his comeback. Alonso’s intense understanding of what he wants is a stark contrast to Ricciardo’s comments so far, which is not going to help if he does start talks with other teams.

Beyond the freedoms it provides in his everyday life, and the fact he was genuinely excited to rejoin the team, there’s a convenience for Ricciardo and Red Bull continuing their arrangement into future years.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

He is still a huge promotional asset for F1, and Red Bull will want that asset to be theirs as long as possible. A return to an F1 seat, and further bad performances, may lower his stock and for now he’s still remembered as Red Bull’s cheery grand prix winner.

David Coulthard has for many years been Red Bull’s go to man for street demos and other publicity stunts requiring an F1 car to be driven over the last 15 years, but he’s now 52 years old and Ricciardo’s recent Australian road trip is the perfect example of the kind of role Red Bull might want him for indefinitely.

But on the other hand, a year or two out of F1 may make Ricciardo better value for money in a race seat. His asking price is likely going to drop the longer he is out of a car, but his promotional stock is still higher than almost every other driver, so he may actually become a more attractive signing in the future.

It all hinges on whether he actually wants to return, and that has to be a 100% committed decision.

Driver Length of absence Reason for exit
Juan Manuel Fangio 0.5 years His team didn’t make a car for the next season
Peter Revson 7 years Struggled as F1 rookie, became Can-Am champion to earn F1 return
Patrick Tambay 1 year Left F1 for Can-Am, won the title and returned to F1
Niki Lauda 2 years Retired to run an airline. Enticed back by record salary
Alan Jones 1 year Retired, returned for a one-off race
Alan Jones 2.5 years Enticed out of retirement to reunite with old boss Carl Haas
Alain Prost 1 year Booted out by Ferrari, then signed with Williams to return
Nigel Mansell 1.5 years Fell out with Williams after they signed Prost. Won CART title and Bernie Ecclestone negotiated a F1 return
Johnny Herbert 1 year Couldn’t find a seat, starred in Japanese F3000 and earned part-time F1 return
Fernando Alonso 1 year His manager prepared him for Renault seat by making him reserve driver for a year
Felipe Massa 1 year Lost Sauber seat, joined Ferrari in test role, then Sauber signed him back
Jacques Villeneuve 1 year Sacked by BAR, signed with Sauber and made early comeback with Renault
Michael Schumacher 3 years Retired, enticed back by the new Mercedes F1 team
Kimi Raikkonen 2 years Paid to spend a year on sidelines by Ferrari, got bored and returned to F1
Robert Kubica 8 years Career stalled by injury. Starred in WRC and recovered to be F1-ready again
Fernando Alonso 2 years Fed up of uncompetitive cars, left F1 to win WEC title. Returned with Alpine
Esteban Ocon 1 year Lost seat, joined Mercedes in reserve role, then made return with Renault

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles

Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

12 comments on “Sabbatical or retirement? Ricciardo returns to F1 paddock – and questions over his future”

  1. Similarity with Kimi – both seem OK with being paid a Monza to kick back for a while and Kimi came back in refreshed, from memory was pretty handily outperformed in his Ferrari before his sabbatical.
    Similarity with Fred – would be if Ric had taken the Haas drive.
    Alan Jones hold’s my trophy for the most consistently wrong pundit that occasionally gets plastered over the tube.

    1. @didaho Alan Jones has a point this time, which most likely proves correct because Ricciardo making a full-time return for next season is unrealistic.

  2. The list should feature many more drivers, such as Esteban Gutierrez, Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen (both have twice returned), & Alexander Albon as the most recent examples.
    However, I agree with Alan Jones that Ricciardo’s chance of a full-time return for next season is non-existent as driver plans (not only based on existing contract lengths, including Checo’s, but generally) are clear for most teams, but 2025 is another matter.

    1. I haven’t done any research but I felt like Kyviat, Ralph Schumacher, Sato and maybe Brendon Hartley also had time out and came back, maybe Heidfeild too??

  3. Daniel has to decide what he wants. I too think it pretty unlikely that he could make a return in 2024. However, the life he currently leads and promotional work, etc may be fine now, but he might find after another year of it he’s looking for something more challenging.

    As the article points out, if negotiating for a place on the grid in 2025 his salary expectations will probably be lower. So he might become a more attractive prospect. How much does he want to return to regular racing though?? If he wants to I think there still might be a place.

    1. @phil-f1-21 However, his problem is I doubt any team would let one of their current drivers go for him as eagerly as they might’ve before his failed Mclaren stint.

  4. You take a sabbatical because you’re young and there are no opportunities, or because you’re established enough to be able to secure good seats even after seasons away from the sport.

    Ricciardo isn’t any of these. The best he can now get are seats like the one he declined at Haas.

    His seasons at Mclaren were bad enough for him to be considered a risky move by any better team.

  5. Red Bull “global ambassador” , backyard or garage cricketer and anything he feels like doing at the time for more than minimum wage.
    Possibly if someone says “you’re incapable of or not good enough to drive F1” he’d call every team principal or just laugh and keep cruising without a worry in the world.
    I’d suspect the latter.

  6. Whether he comes back now or not depends on the musical chairs of F1 and a seat becoming available that he would be prepared to take. That depends on other drivers retiring or basically being fired and a seat opening up at a team he’s prepared to go to. I doubt now any of the top teams would take him over other options, and AT only want younger drivers, so realistically I can only see him going to one of Alpine, Aston Martin, Haas, McLaren, Williams, or Sauber. Of those, I think the only ones realistically likely to offer to him, and where he might be prepared to go, would be Alpine or Sauber. So if Bottas retired, or the likes of Ocon, Gasly, or Zhao underperform, he could come in for them.

  7. Derek Edwards
    30th March 2023, 16:58

    No list like this is complete without mentioning the king of comebacks – Jan Lammers!!!

  8. Should be on telly, giving back to the sport that’s given him so much. Get Coulthard away from the camera and microphone (and where he wants to be, counting his money), and this guy as his replacement will be twice as insightful and a million times more entertaining.

  9. I don’t think we will see Daniel back in F1.

    Most likely, we will see him next to Christian Horner on the TV screens. Like Toto Wolff had previously Vandoorne and now Schumacher by his side.

Comments are closed.