Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has advised Alpine to give their vacant seat for 2023 to Daniel Ricciardo, claiming he would pursue the Australian driver if he was in charge of the Enstone-based team.
Since cutting ties with Red Bull in 2018, Ricciardo has endured four underwhelming seasons in Formula 1, currently reeling down in 14th on the drivers’ standings with 19 points.
A couple of podium finishes at Renault in late 2020 and last year’s thrilling Monza triumph, where McLaren clinched a 1-2 finish, were lone highlights in an otherwise disappointing spell for the Perth driver.
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And Ricciardo is set to face the consequences, with McLaren dumping the 33-year-old with 12 months remaining on his contract and replacing him with young compatriot Oscar Piastri.
Ricciardo only has six races left in 2022 to convince the other teams to pursue his signature, but currently there are only vacancies at Williams, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Haas.
Despite being a backward step of sorts, rekindling his partnership with Alpine, formerly Renault, seems to be his most logical destination.
However, Ricciardo’s decision to jump ship and sign for McLaren ahead of the 2021 season did not sit well with the Renault hierarchy, particularly former boss Cyril Abiteboul.
Speaking on the F1: Beyond The Grid podcast, Horner claimed that Ricciardo was still capable of winning races and taking podiums despite his recent slump.
“I think I probably would (go with Ricciardo) to be honest with you,” he said.
“They obviously know him from a couple of seasons ago and he was very together during his last season there, scoring podiums, and I think he’s the type of guy that, I think you could rebuild him.
“It’s obviously not been a great experience for him (at McLaren) for whatever reason but you just have to think back to some of the drives that he did for us, some of the wins he had, the podiums, some of the stunning overtakes he was capable of … that’s still in there I’m sure, he just needs a bit of a reset.
“You don’t just forget how to deliver so I hope for him he gets another opportunity and gets himself back on the grid for next year.”
But not everyone agrees with Horner.
Last week, former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve questioned why Alpine, or any team for that matter, would pursue Ricciardo’s signature after four “terrible” years in the sport for the Australian.
When asked after the Italian Grand Prix if he was surprised Ricciardo was not being touted as a candidate, Villeneuve’s response was painfully blunt.
“Why would he be?” the 1997 world champion told F1 TV.
“He had two terrible years at Renault and two even more terrible years at McLaren. That’s four years. Almost half of his Formula 1 career was bad.
“Alpine have no reason to take him, especially when he’s driven there before.
“The modern cars just don’t seem to suit his driving style.
“He was impressive at Red Bull. He showed amazing overtaking manoeuvres. He was ahead of Max at the beginning. But in the end Max started to get a handle on him. Then he switched. And after the switch something seems to have happened that he never managed to get a handle on. He never recovered from that.”
A potential slip of the tongue while chatting with Mexican driver Sergio Perez following the Dutch Grand Prix may have revealed Ricciardo’s intention to take a break from F1 and return in 2024.
But Villeneuve advised against the move.
“It could make him lazy,” he explained.
“You can take a year off if you’re an Alonso, a Schumacher, if you’ve been world champion and won a lot of races, if you know in the paddock that you’ll always be at your best, no matter what season. After four bad years don’t do that.
“You take what you can get. If you have an offer to drive in Formula 1, then you take every cockpit. In public you will say, ‘You don’t want to drive for one of the back teams’, but if that’s the only contract you can get, then you’ll sign it.”
The F1 season resumes next week at the Singapore Grand Prix, with lights out scheduled for 11pm AEST on Sunday, October 2.