Formula One’s man in demand might be close to securing a new home for the 2019 season.
Out of contract with Red Bull at the end of this year, Chinese Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo is a wanted driver.
Reigning champions Mercedes and Ferrari both have seats open for next season but Red Bull’s Christian Horner has publicly stated his wish is to re-sign the Australian.
According to Sky Sports F1’s Mark Hughes, however, there is the belief within Red Bull that Ricciardo is already in discussions with Ferrari.
But he hasn’t reunited with Sebastian Vettel just yet.
Formula One contracts dictate that drivers can sign an exclusivity arrangement with rival outfits, where a team will pay a potential recruit to discuss a deal over weeks or even months without needing to worry about being one-upped.
And, with a June 30 deadline attached, that’s where the Ricciardo situation is believed to sit.
“Those privy to such matters at Red Bull are adamant that he has definitely signed something, somewhere but it’s not with them and it’s not with Mercedes,” Hughes wrote for Motorsport Magazine.
“Logically, therefore, it must be Ferrari. The question becomes, does he follow up with a full Ferrari deal – or in the event he cannot agree terms with Ferrari, just keep the fee and subsequently extend with Red Bull (or switch to Mercedes)?”
Hughes believes Red Bull are seeking an answer by the end of May, well before Ferrari’s window with Ricciardo closes.
The point up for debate is clear – Ricciardo will want to be treated as an equal.
The Australian outperformed Vettel during their one season as Red Bull teammates in 2014, while the German four-time champion previously had a combustible relationship with Mark Webber.
“There is surely no way Ricciardo would countenance going there as anything other than equal No.1,” Hughes wrote.
“His stock is super-high at the moment and now is the perfect time for him to be pressing that home in his negotiations.
“If it happens, it offers the watching world a fascinating chance to see Vettel-Ricciardo II, the rematch.”
Vettel is under contract with Ferrari until the end of the 2020 season, when Max Verstappen’s deal with Red Bull is also up.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are both out of contract at Mercedes at the end of this year.