Lewis Hamilton says Daniel Ricciardo is “too talented” to be a Mercedes reserve driver in 2023 as speculation mounts that the Australian could be set for a sabbatical from full-time racing next season.
Rumours have swirled this week that Ricciardo is weighing up a Mercedes third-driver role next year to keep sharp before diving back into the driver market in 2024.
The UK’s Daily Mail reported that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is considering drafting in the Australian as an insurance policy in the event Hamilton decides to retire at the end of his current contract, which expires at the end of next season.
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Speaking to reporters at the Italian Grand Prix, Ricciardo reiterated that he’s keeping all options open, with the Australian having previously said he’ll turn his attention to his future after this weekend’s race, when the sport will take two weekends off.
“I’m really assessing everything,” he said. “I still don’t know what next year looks like.
“I do want to be on the grid, I do want to race — I touched on it a few weeks ago. Although this has been certainly a challenging time in my career, it hasn’t taken the love of the sport away from me and that desire to still be here and still compete.
“There’s no reason for me to hold back any information now. There’s no secrets. It’s all open and out there.
“In short, I don’t have anything teed up yet. I don’t have anything confirmed. I think when I do, I’ll be the first to tell you.”
Ricciardo has said he wouldn’t want to stay on the grid at any cost — that is, tie himself up with a backmarker team with minimal prospects for success — and he reiterated that his next career move would be with his long-term future in mind.
“The truth is I’m keeping every option open for not only next year but the future,” he said.
“It’s not just about what’s right for next year, it’s what’s right for my future; it goes beyond 2023.
“Obviously [there are] many talks or thoughts about next year and beyond that, but as I said, I’m still not sure what that looks like.
“It’s complex, but when I know, I’ll tell you.”
Speaking alongside Ricciardo, Hamilton said he’d welcome the Australian into the Mercedes team, but he added that the eight-time race winner was too talented to settle for a non-racing role in Formula 1.
“I think he should be racing, firstly,” he said. “I think he’s far too talented — he’s earnt the right to be amongst us all racing.
“Of course if he’s a part of our team, it’d be great, but a third role is not really I think the space for him.
“If I was managing him, he’d be racing.”
But Hamilton shut down speculation that he was considering leaving the sport at the end of his contract, pouring cold water on any Ricciardo-centred succession planning.
“For years we’ve been going around, up and down, with stories of retirement and stopping,” he said. “For me, I feel healthier than I’ve ever felt, and I focus a lot on that.
“I’m feeling fit, I love what I’m doing, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon — sorry, buddy!”
Asked if he had started negotiations for a new deal, the Briton strongly hinted that he would be extending his Mercedes stay into a 12th season.
“My goal was always to be with Mercedes since I signed with them in 1997,” he said. “I love that we have the long partnership we have.
“I feel like we are embarking on a lot of really positive things not only in the sport but outside, and I think there’s a lot of work to accomplish together. I want to be a part of that.
“I think I will always be with Mercedes until the day I die. I feel I can race for quite a bit longer, so I’ll be potentially steering towards that.”
Turning his attention to the Italian Grand Prix, Ricciardo said he was enjoying being back at Monza 12 months on from his famous victory at the head of a McLaren one-two.
“Obviously last year was so special, a big moment,” he said. “It’s a year on, but those big moments and memories still seem such at the forefront of your mind, it feels very recent. Everything is still very vivid when I think back on it now.
“Monza is a place I’ve always enjoyed, results aside. It’s a fun track. Low downforce, high speed, best pizza in the world — all these things make it fun and nice.”
But the Australian wasn’t prepared to predict his competitiveness this weekend, though he said his hopes for an unlikely back-to-back victory weren’t high.
“[In terms of my competitiveness], I don’t know yet,” he said. “Obviously this year it’s hard for me to be like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to finish on the podium this year’. I’d just be saying that to say it.
“I don’t want to say were going to repeat it this year, but obviously coming into a circuit with those good memories and good feelings and stuff is cool.
“Take the win away, I’ve always just come tot his track and enjoyed my time here. It’s a circuit that I have fun on.
“I think we’ll be all right, but who knows. To be determined.”