There are some pieces you are looking forward to writing. This is not one of them. Because it is becoming increasingly clear that we knew and loved Daniel Ricciardo, seemingly gone forever.
Whispers are growing louder that the 32-year-old will not be at McLaren in 2023, although he has 18 months left on his contract.
McLaren boss Jack Brown admitted as much as he did last week, when he said Ricciardo did not live up to the team’s expectations, and acknowledged that there was a “process” in the deal that could leave the Australians by the end of 2022.
Read more: Bennett’s dolphin ‘big fish’ star is ready to land
Read more: That detail is lost in the ugly smile stand-off with the Broncos
Read more: Basketball legend Liz Cambridge’s outrageous response to the claim
As much as an NRL or AFL coach can certify, once the speculation reaches a point where management is questioning your future, the situation is almost always over.
We all know that having “full board support” means “he will be fired next week” but perhaps the only bad thing is when management offers less than full support, as Brown did here.
Instead of Ricciardo signing a contract by the end of 2023 and putting the matter to rest, McLaren’s boss’s comments put Ricciardo’s future at the forefront and at the center.
And let’s face it – in their current form, the Australians just don’t deserve a place at the top.
They have been teammates in 29 races, with Lando Norris scoring 208 points from Ricardo’s 126.
The Sports Bible, AutoCourse, publishes an annual list of the top 10 drivers ranked by the editor.
In his first season with the Red Bull in 2014, Ricciardo was rated as the second best driver in the sport, Tony Doggins wrote, “You couldn’t argue if Ricciardo was given the No. 1 slot. No doubt a potential world champion.”
He was third in 2015, second in 2016, third in 2017, fifth in 2018, seventh in 2019 and fourth in 2020.
In 2021? Dodgins has completely eliminated Ricardo from the top-10 and you will still be pressured to sue for his return in 2022 based on the evidence.
Sure, McLaren had a car dog at the start of the season, but Norris has managed to finish five points from the last six races. Ricciardo, meanwhile, once finished in the top-10, often suffers from a poor qualifying session that leaves him on the back foot on the day of the race.
In the first half of 2021, the story revolved around how Ricciardo struggled to adapt to McLaren, which required a driving style that was much more appropriate than Ricciardo with Norris. The Australians led 1-2 in Italy, but Norris was undoubtedly the leader of the team throughout the season.
Those fights with cars were supposed to disappear in 2022, with a complete revision of the rules of the game which meant speed was created in a very different fashion.
Instead, McLaren pays a Ricardo (not trivial) salary and receives a small return for their expenses.
Monaco Ricardo had two of the most famous drive scenes. His 2016 effort for the Red Bull, when only one unpleasant pitstop won him, and his 2018 win when he held Sebastian Vettel, even after taking care of the sick car most of the time in the race.
But it is also a nightmare for McLaren. In 2021, he endured the humiliation of being held in the lap by Norris, this year he crashed during practice, a rare error from which he could never recover.
Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion who drove McLaren for seven seasons, believes Brown’s comments put Ricciardo in a difficult position.
“I was surprised he came out and said,” Button told Sky Sports.
“Formula 1 is a real mental game. They all have tremendous skills but you can’t perform unless your head is in the right place.
“When your team’s principal comes out and says it definitely hurts. From Daniel’s reaction, it hurts.
“It just goes out of control.”
Jack Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, was more direct in his column for Formule1.nl.
“Daniel Ricciardo’s time in McLaren is over,” he wrote.
“CEO Jack Brown now says there’s clause in his contract, and that means a decision is almost made. It’s a way to put pressure on the driver and prepare the media.”
If Ricciardo breaks up with McLaren, his chances of finishing sixth in Melbourne last month are likely to be seen by Australian fans in an F1 car.
Ferrari and Mercedes have no extra seats for next year, and the Red Bull could probably keep Sergio Perez with Max Verstappen. And even if a place is found in one of the top three teams, it is difficult to see a situation where any of those teams would be interested in Ricardo.
Alpine has Esteban Oakon under contract for next year, and one of Fernando Alonso or Oscar Piastri has been chosen to partner him, so Ricardo has no chance of returning to his former squad.
AlphaTauri has any number of Red Bull juniors to call, and the high-rated Theo Porchair would be in the front line if Alfa Romeo made any changes.
That leaves backmarkers – Haas, Williams and Aston Martin, as the only realistic alternative to 2023. Hardly a tasty choice for someone who has won eight races, although fighting behind the field is something he has sadly become accustomed to in recent times. .
Ricciardo has started more races than any other Australian, but unless something changes in the next few months, it will be difficult to see him continue to play this year.
Writing for Motorsport Magazine last week, leading journalist Mark Hughes noted that the situation is rapidly becoming unbearable for Ricciardo.
“This level of performance is not something that hyper-competitive Daniel will even tolerate himself and unless he can quickly understand and correct, it’s hard to imagine him still in the seat next year,” he wrote.
“We’re seeing the final stages of a great career, although it could be even bigger in slightly different situations.”
To get a daily dose of the best breaking news and exclusive content from the Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter Click here!