McLaren chief executive Zak Brown has confessed to offering Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo a spot on the constructor’s IndyCar team after terminating his Formula 1 contract.
On Wednesday evening, Ricciardo confirmed the 2022 season would be his last at McLaren, with the two parties agreeing to part ways with 12 months remaining on his contract.
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“Obviously we put in a lot of effort on both sides but it just hasn’t worked the way we wanted so the team has decided to make a change for next year,” he said in an emotional Instagram post.
“We had a lot of discussions but in the end we mutually agreed it was the right thing for both of us.
“I will continue to do the rest of this year, absolutely. And I’ll continue to give it my all.
“For the future, what lies ahead, (I’m) not sure yet. But we’ll see.”
The 33-year-old, who has won eight grand prix races since making his F1 debut in 2011, will reportedly receive an eight-figure payout from McLaren in the region of $14.5 million.
He is expected to be replaced by young compatriot Oscar Piastri, the reigning F2 champion and Alpine’s current test driver.
But in one final insult before sacking the Perth driver, Brown made a desperate bid to keep Ricciardo on the McLaren roster by offering him a seat in United States’ leading single-seater championship — IndyCar.
“Yes, we spoke about that,” Brown confirmed to MotorSport.
“As Andreas (Seidl) said, he’s an exceptional racing driver and any team that he drives for is so privileged to have Daniel drive for them, and we do have a variety of racing activities.
“But, that being said, he’s very focused on Formula 1.”
If Ricciardo had accepted the IndyCar offer, it potentially would have saved McLaren millions, but the Aussie is fiercely determined to stay on the F1 grid.
“I’ve never been more motivated to compete and be a part of a sport that I love so much and look forward to what comes next,” he said.
Ricciardo, who has a close affiliation with the United States and is a lifelong NASCAR fanatic, would become an immediate superstar if he joined McLaren’s IndyCar team.
The American fanbase would have undeniably welcomed Ricciardo with open arms, particularly since becoming a cult hero on Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive.
But it’s hard to imagine Ricciardo not racing in F1 next season.
Ricciardo’s most likely option for 2023 appears to be former team Alpine — previously known as Renault — where he spent two seasons in 2019 and 2020.
However, Ricciardo jumped ship and signed for McLaren ahead of the 2021 season, a decision that did not sit well with the Renault hierarchy, particularly former boss Cyril Abiteboul.
Despite the lingering bad blood, Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer — at the helm of the rebranded Alpine — hinted that he would be willing to sign Ricciardo if the opportunity presented itself.
“I mean, if you look at Fernando (Alonso), for example, he comes and goes, and I think that happens to other drivers too,” he told Autosport.
“And I don‘t think that’s an issue at all. I think what we need to focus on is, like I say, the plans that we have for the next 89-88 races.
“We‘ve got to make sure that we complement that plan with the best driver that we can, and there are some options out there for us. And we put the best driver in next to Esteban (Ocon), so that we can move forward towards what we’ve been planning.”
Despite being a backward step of sorts, rekindling his partnership with Alpine seems to be the most logical destination for Ricciardo.
The F1 season resumes this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix, with lights out scheduled for 11pm AEST on Sunday evening.