The Formula 1 paddock is a cutthroat workplace, but sometimes friendships form in unlikely places.
And after two long, painful and demoralising seasons, Daniel Ricciardo has needed some friends.
Ricciardo occupies an interesting space in F1’s collective consciousness. Two years ago he was one of the most highly rated drivers in the sport, his skills beyond doubt. But his campaigning for McLaren hasn’t met the standards he set for himself.
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They say you’re only as good as your last race, and the fact the West Australian is struggling to find a competitive seat in Formula 1 speaks to that fact.
But the sport also has a long memory, and Ricciardo has insisted that he’s had no shortage of support during the last two years from people who remember what he’s capable of.
One of the most prominent is his former teammate and rival Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel, for a time the pantomime villain for Australian F1 fans during his partnership with Mark Webber, has been a uniquely supportive paddock presence during some of Ricciardo’s dark recent days.
It remains to be seen whether there are enough true believers like Vettel left in the sport to give Ricciardo a chance to revive his career in 2024.
Elsewhere, it seems likely Ricciardo will be competing with Mick Schumacher for a return spot on the grid in 12 months, with Haas reportedly set to confirm the German won’t be continuing with the team next season.
Meanwhile, Red Bull Racing is bolstering its pool of junior drivers for 2023 in an arrangement that could see some fresh faces get F1 seat time.
RICCIARDO PRAISES ‘TRUE FRIEND’ VETTEL AFTER DIFFICULT SEASON
Daniel Ricciardo has been through the ringer in his two seasons at McLaren, but he’s got through it with a little help from some friends.
The Aussie has praised “true friend” and former teammate Sebastian Vettel for his support during 2022, especially during the lows of his sacking during the middle of the year.
“I won’t go into detail in terms of what was said or whatever,” Ricciardo said, per Autosport.
“He’s picked up the phone multiple times this year and just been a friend — just like showing care and just checking in, checking in as a true friend would do.
“It had a bit more emphasis around the time of all the contract stuff happening and when there was a lot of noise.
“I don’t want to single him out, because there were some other drivers, but he was the one that was certainly picking up the phone pretty often and checking in.”
Ricciardo crashes out on opening lap! | 00:38
Ricciardo, one of F1’s most popular drivers inside and outside the paddock, said that that sort of deep level of friendship was rare at the highest level of motorsport competition.
“To have friends like that is so important. But it’s also not that common in terms of on the grid.
“We get on with drivers, and you do build friendships, but to have kind of that deeper level of friendship — let’s say some gestures he made this year and some of the kindness he showed towards me was, in a way, kind of unexpected. But yeah, just super nice.”
Vettel was among the first to publicly defend Ricciardo’s reputation after McLaren axed his contract.
“I think he’s still one of the best drivers,” he said in August. “I still think he has very, very much to offer. In this regard — I don’t know the details — but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has.”
Ricciardo has previously spoken of his respect for Vettel after their single season as teammates despite expectations the German’s previously prickly relationship with Mark Webber would carry over to the younger Aussie.
“The respect he’s shown for me has always remained high,” Ricciardo told ESPN at the end of their 2014 season together. “It’s easy after my first win, when he congratulated me, but even after [finishing] second and third he was still as humble as he could have been.
“I earnt more respect for him for the way he showed it to me, so that was very nice.”
HAAS TO DROP SCHUMACHER, HULKENBERG IN
Mick Schumacher will be officially axed from Haas for 2023 in favour of veteran Nico Hulkenberg in an announcement due this Wednesday, according to reports out of Germany.
Schumacher’s seat has been under threat virtually all year after his crash-prone start to the season, including million-dollar smashes in Saudi Arabia and Monaco.
Haas is one of the sport’s smallest teams, and the damage bills were eating considerably into the budget. Team boss Guenther Steiner wanted Schumacher he was on thin ice.
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The 23-year-old responded with a notable uptick in form and improved consistency through the middle of the season, including his pointscoring finishes in Britain and Austria.
He hasn’t returned to the top 10 since, but his qualifying pace and general form has compared favourably to teammate Kevin Magnussen’s in the second half of the year.
But it hasn’t been enough to save his nascent career, with Germany’s Bild reporting that Hulkenberg will sign a contract to race in 2023 on Tuesday, followed by an announcement likely on Wednesday.
Schumacher will also reportedly lose his position at the Ferrari driver academy.
If dropped by Haas, Mick is expected to seek a reserve-driver contract, with Mercedes a possible refuge. Michael Schumacher had career-long connections with the German marque.
He would also likely find himself in the frame for a drive at Williams in 2023 if Logan Sargeant fails to secure enough superlicence points at this weekend’s Abud Dhabi Grand Prix.
At the weekend Steiner said the team had made its decision, with only the formalities needing to be agreed.
“Expect the announcement sometime next week,” he said. “I‘m not telling you a day because then everybody will be waiting for that day. It will be coming next week.”
Hulkenberg, who turned 35 this year, raced in Formula 1 for nine seasons before being dropped by Renault for Esteban Ocon at the end of 2019.
He hasn’t raced full-time since then but has made five impressive COVID-inspired appearances for Racing Point and Aston Martin.
Huge stack mars Nitro RX | 00:50
RED BULL SIGNS GRANDSON OF F1 LEGEND TO JUNIOR PROGRAM
Enzo Fittipaldi, grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, has joined the Red Bull junior driver program after an impressive debut full-time season in Formula 2.
The dual-nationality American Brazilian, whose older brother Pietro is the Haas reserve drive, will also switch from the midfield Charouz team to Carlin in 2023.
Fittipaldi is in a three-way tie for fourth in the standings with Jack Doohan and fellow Red Bull junior Jehan Daruvala and can finish the campaign as high as third with a good round in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Speaking to Racer, Fittipaldi appeared to hint that a third-place finish and the ensuing superlicence points could see him take up a reserve driver role in the Red Bull F1 program next season.
“It’s difficult to say now,” he said. “I still have to do a really good job in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m fighting for third in the championship in Formula 2, I have the race next week, so it’s really important I do a good job there.
“The goal is to finish top three this year.”
Fittipaldi aside, Red Bull sponsors four other drivers in Formula 2 this season, but not all of them are considered likely to continue in the program.
According to Autosport, Kiwi Liam Lawson will continue with his F1 reserve status but switch to Japan’s Super Formula. Norwegian Dennis Hauger will step up as a fellow reserve.
Daniel Ricciardo is also reportedly in talks with his former employer for a reserve role, with Marko hinting in the German media that the two parties are talking.