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Analysis
Formula 1 Spanish GP

How Ricciardo's F1 future hangs in the balance

OPINION: Daniel Ricciardo heads to this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix as the only Red Bull driver without a contract for next season. Is it the start of a long goodbye from Formula 1?

Daniel Ricciardo, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, in Parc Ferme after the race

Daniel Ricciardo, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, in Parc Ferme after the race

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Five months ago it looked like the safest seat in Red Bull's Formula 1 stable. An eight-time race winner parked at RB, while offering its A-team an insurance policy.

After all, Daniel Ricciardo was a known quantity to Red Bull and in fact was listed by team principal Christian Horner as his favourite driver in the squad's history.

Horner was instrumental in bringing him in out of the cold midway through last season as a replacement for Nyck de Vries, ending the Dutchman's short spell at AlphaTauri. Horner had presumed he could rekindle the fire he once saw in the Australian.

During an explosive few months for Red Bull at the turn of the year following the investigation into Horner after an internal complaint, Ricciardo's position continued to look strong.

Max Verstappen's father Jos had made it clear his son could be forced to quit the team with Mercedes falling over itself to sign the world champion. Ricciardo therefore offered Red Bull a back-up if Verstappen did indeed quit, or at least could bide the squad some time while it sourced a long-term replacement.

However, Verstappen's situation has since calmed down and it is now likely he will remain with the team for another season at least.

Then there is Sergio Perez. If Ricciardo's job was to put some pressure on the Mexican to deliver, then there is some varying success.

Perez made a strong start to the season as Ricciardo waited in the wings

Perez made a strong start to the season as Ricciardo waited in the wings

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

At the start of the year, Perez opened with four podiums in five races, but his form has since dipped somewhat alarmingly - although not enough to dissuade Red Bull from offering him a two-year extension to his contract taking him until the end of 2026.

OPINION: The dangers of Red Bull re-signing Perez

That obviously meant Ricciardo was out of the running for a seat in Red Bull and, barring another move away from team, looked set to remain with RB. However, while team-mate Yuki Tsunoda has also been handed a contract extension, there remains no offer on the table for Ricciardo, who turns 35 next week.

PLUS: How Tsunoda has proved himself as RB’s team leader  in F1

It’s easy to understand why, as his performances this season have been disappointing. Ricciardo was criticised by Jacques Villeneuve as part of Sky F1's coverage at the Canadian Grand Prix when the 1997 world champion asked, "why is he still in F1?"

The comment upset Ricciardo and his management, but it was hard to disagree with Villeneuve's frank reasoning.

OPINION: Has Ricciardo's Canada reaction come too late amid Villeneuve attack?

After the Spanish GP last weekend, and another poor result of 15th, Ricciardo put on a brave face again and absolved himself of any blame.

"It is a team sport - it's not an individual sport," he said. "It's not that you hug and comfort each other, but you bring each other together and you work and acknowledge that 15th is not fun. So we want to be better."

When asked whether he has been forced to dig deeper than ever before, Ricciardo says he's up for the fight. Although there was a hesitancy in his words, as he pointed out that everyone on the grid is now much more competitive.

The prospect of Ricciardo partnering Verstappen has quickly disappeared

The prospect of Ricciardo partnering Verstappen has quickly disappeared

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

He added: "I'm definitely all in. I am certainly putting everything into it to try and get everything out of it. It's not that I think back to eight or 10 years ago and feel like it did come a little easier, but I also feel like just naturally with more data now, more onboards, more sims... The field is tighter.

"I feel like every driver in the same car, maybe 10 years ago there is, I'm pulling this number out of my arse, but maybe a second [between us], where now it might be five tenths or something.

"So a bad day these days pays much more of a price than I feel it used to. So that's it, you just can't afford to have a bad day.

"From a technical side and feedback and that, I feel like I'm probably doing more than I ever have, but in a way that I'm enjoying. So maybe just with age, I'm enjoying this process more."

He might be enjoying it, but with only one finish in the points this season, those at Red Bull aren't sharing the same enthusiasm.

It remains a crucial few weeks for the Australian, with Liam Lawson waiting in the wings eager for his chance after impressing in the five races where he filled in for Ricciardo last year while he recovered from a broken hand suffered practicing for the Dutch GP.

Naturally, Lawson represents the future while Ricciardo looks a shadow of the man he was when he impressively defeated Sebastian Vettel in equal machinery in 2014.

It might be that even if Ricciardo does score points in Austria and Silverstone, it still may not be enough. There is a growing feeling that, having started the year in a comfortable position with a shot of driving for Red Bull, he's now found himself surplus to its requirements.

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