The Australian has been left sitting on the sidelines this season after being let go by McLaren at the end of 2022 following a hugely disappointing two years with the team. 

Is Daniel Ricciardo returning to Formula 1 in 2023?

Ricciardo established himself as one of F1’s top drivers by winning seven races for Red Bull, but a brilliant and unexpected victory at Monza in 2021 aside, his reputation has since nosedived. 

A largely unsuccessful two-year-stint at Renault was followed by a disastrous spell at McLaren that culminated with Ricciardo having his contract terminated a year early due to underperforming against Lando Norris

Having returned to Red Bull this year as a reserve driver, Ricciardo has his sights firmly set on securing a race seat for 2024. 

“Do I miss being out on the track? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” Ricciardo said in a recent interview with The Red Bull Bulletin. 

“I watched the first couple of races on the couch and that was… interesting! Even so, I was comfortable with it. 

“But then I went to the grand prix in Melbourne, my home race, and everything was a bit more heightened - being around it, smelling it, hearing it. It certainly confirmed that I don’t feel done. 

“Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be racing next year. Last year, a part of me thought, “Oh, maybe this is it,” but now I feel that’s not how it’s going to end. 

“So it’s all good feelings at the moment. It feels like I’m figuring it all out - it’s all starting to make sense - and I’m really looking forward to what comes next.” 

How likely is a Red Bull return? 

Ricciardo has made it clear that he wants a front-running seat, and there are none more competitive than Red Bull’s dominant RB19, which has won all five races so far this season. 

Given his current role, the 33-year-old is, theoretically at least, in a strong position to capitalise on any opening at Red Bull. The problem Ricciardo faces is that such a scenario seems a highly unlikely prospect. 

Max Verstappen appears on course to win a third consecutive world championship this year and as the holder of the longest contract in F1 (running until 2028), the Dutchman won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

With teammate Sergio Perez contracted until the end of 2024, there is no room at Red Bull before 2025 at the earliest. Red Bull currently have no reason to replace Perez given he has been the most consistent performer alongside Verstappen since Ricciardo left. 

Barring a major and irreparable fallout between Verstappen and Perez amid their ongoing world title battle, a driver change at Red Bull next season looks incredibly remote at this stage. 

The unlikeliest options

A move to either Ferrari or Aston Martin also seems improbable for Ricciardo, considering both teams have their current drivers under contract for at least the next 12 months. 

With Lewis Hamilton’s future yet to be resolved, there is a small possibility that Ricciardo could find himself as an outside contender for a Mercedes seat if Hamilton were to quit. Realistically, Ricciardo would find himself behind the likes of Charles Leclerc and Norris in the queue. 

McLaren can surely be ruled out of the equation given the embarrassing nature of his departure from the team, while a second stint at the rebranded Alpine also seems far-fetched. 

Amid Nyck de Vries’ struggles, Ricciardo was recently linked with replacing the Dutchman at AlphaTauri. Despite a seat fitting fuelling wild rumours, he isn’t believed to be on the team’s shortlist. 

After all, such a move wouldn’t make much sense for either party and would go against Red Bull’s philosophy of bringing through young talent. Ricciardo being placed at AlphaTauri would also create an obstacle for Liam Lawson, whose impressive performances in Super Formula will likely put him in the frame for a 2024 seat alongside Yuki Tsunoda

The likeliest options 

That leaves Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams as the most realistic options for Ricciardo.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has left the door open for Ricciardo by hinting he would be willing to talk to the Australian about a future seat at the American outfit. 

Alternatively, there could be a potential opening at Alfa Romeo for 2024 if the Swiss outfit opted against renewing Zhou Guanyu for a third season. 

If Alfa Romeo wanted to go in a different direction, a line-up consisting of multiple grand prix winners could be formed by placing Ricciardo alongside Valtteri Bottas

Alfa Romeo would not be able to provide Ricciardo with the immediate competitiveness he is seeking, but Audi’s future involvement, and a reunion with former boss Andreas Seidl, may appeal if he is willing to be patient. 

Following his McLaren axe, Ricciardo was linked with Williams but the team ultimately signed rookie Logan Sargeant to partner Alex Albon for 2023.

Williams are likely to give Sargeant time and it is hard to see Ricciardo being interested in a switch to F1’s current backmarkers anyway given he has made it clear he will not pursue a full-time return “at any cost”. 

Indeed, the reason Ricciardo doesn’t have a seat this year is because he had no interest in fighting for scraps. 

“To go back and try to put myself in just any seat or something that's fighting at best for a top-10 finish, I don't think that's going to bring the best out of me,” Ricciardo said on his return to the F1 paddock at the Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo’s mindset may require a change if he is to ensure his failed McLaren tenure is not how his F1 story ends.