Daniel Ricciardo has been hit with a brutal truth bomb amid growing speculation that he could be edging closer to making a return to Formula One and Lewis Hamilton might move to Ferrari. Ricciardo's name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Alpha Tauri's Nyck de Vries, with Red Bull's infamously ruthless Dr Helmut Marko reportedly unimpressed with the Dutch driver.
Reports of Ricciardo's potential return to the F1 grid came as rumours swirled that seven-time world champion Hamilton was weighing up a spectacular shift from Mercedes to Ferrari. Hamilton has reportedly been mulling over a move away from Mercedes, the team where he has won six of his seven F1 drivers' championships.
Mercedes have fallen back to the F1 pack under the new technical regulations introduced for the 2022 season, and have been a shadow of the team that largely dominated from the 2014 season onwards. However, Hamilton has responded to the bombshell reports centred on him and denies being approached by Ferrari, adding that he is close to agreeing a contract extension with Mercedes. The 38-year-old - who currently sits fourth in the driver standings - claims his new deal with Mercedes should be finalised "in the coming weeks".
"Naturally, in contract negotiations, there's always going to be speculation," Hamilton said. "My team's working closely behind the scenes with (Mercedes team principal) Toto (Wolff). We're almost at the end of having a contract ready."
Hamilton didn't win a race last year for the first time in his career, dating back to 2007. Yet to win a race so far in a 2023 season dominated by Red Bull, Hamilton still believes Mercedes can turn things around and insists the recent performance isn't weighing on his decision whether to stay with the team.
"It doesn't have a bearing, I think, because we're still a championship-winning team," he added. "It's just, we've had the wrong car. There have been some decisions that have been made over the past two years that have not been ideal, and we're working our way through that."
Red Bull heavyweight's truth bomb for Daniel Ricciardo
Hamilton's update appears to knock on the head the notion that his potential move to Ferrari would trigger a massive driver shake-up that could ultimately land Ricciardo at Alph Tauri. The Aussie driver is currently a back-up at Red Bull, whose development boss Helmut Marko has given the 33-year-old a brutal reality check about his standing against the team's top two drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
“He is not at the level of Verstappen and Perez [on the simulator],” Marko said in an interview with Motorsport-Total.com. Ricciardo opted to sit out the 2023 season and take up a spot as a reserve driver at Red Bull, after being ultimately let go by McLaren, in favour of fellow Aussie, Oscar Piastri. It represents the second stint for Ricciardo at Red Bull - albeit largely reduced to roles on the simulator and PR duties for the powerhouse team.
Ricciardo is determined to find a spot on next year’s grid but has made it clear that he only wants to join a team capable of fighting at the front of the field. “His goal is to get back into a top team,” Marko said. “Those were his statements. And I think this break from active sport is good for him so that he can find himself and know where he really wants to go.”
The Austrian boss has all but put to bed suggestions Ricciardo could replace de Vries at AlphaTauri. Marko says Ricciardo is not in line for that seat “for the reasons mentioned”, which are that Red Bull have junior drivers such as Liam Lawson for the job, but “also because of the statements made by himself, it is not an alternative".
“AlphaTauri is AlphaTauri. And Red Bull Racing is Red Bull Racing. Whether you drive in midfield or whether you drive at the front, that’s a completely different pressure, a completely different climate. […] We know his qualities. Then came the Renault era. Then McLaren came and there was a slump. That wasn’t the Ricciardo we knew.”
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