Daniel Ricciardo has no immediate plans to go racing, but even from the sidelines of Formula One the Australian will still be providing one of the sub-plots of the season that starts on March 5.
The 33-year-old eight times grand prix winner is back at Red Bull as their third driver for 2023, supporting double world champion Max Verstappen and Mexican Sergio Perez in the simulator.
He can expect plenty of marketing and media duties and is also likely to be called on for crowd-pleasing tyre-smoking demonstration runs.
The question is whether one of the sport’s most popular characters, who left McLaren at the end of last year after two tough seasons alongside Lando Norris, can make a comeback in 2024 -- and how hungry he really is.
Ricciardo, an ever-smiling star of the Netflix docu-series ‘Drive to Survive’, suggested to reporters at Red Bull’s season launch in New York this month that even he did not really know the answer.
“I’m not necessarily looking to do things or other races this year,” he said of his first year off the F1 grid since 2011.
“It’s going to be more if I’ve got free time go and ride some dirt bikes with friends and ride across parts of America. Something like that. Just do adventure things, a little bit more fun, a bit more light-hearted.
“I know these things will give me a lot of good head space, clarity and some good life experience and stories to tell.”
Ricciardo said he was not planning on setting foot in the F1 paddock until his home race weekend in Melbourne at the end of March and early April, and was not yet “foaming at the mouth” to get behind the wheel.
His long-time coach Michael Italiano has already found a new job, working with Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda at Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri.
Ricciardo’s availability will, however, still add to the pressure on Perez once the racing starts in Bahrain.
The Mexican knows the team have a plug-in alternative if he falls out of favour or fails to perform to their expectations.
Whether Ricciardo gets the chance to reprise his former role as Verstappen’s team mate, or even wants it, remains to be seen. Where else he might go is also far from clear.
“By the summer of course I definitely need to have an idea of where I’m at so that would be the ‘latest latest’,” said the Australian of any decision deadline.
“I think once I get more involved in the simulator, spend some time at races and see the others compete ... I’ll know if I’m like kind of putting myself in the car or if I’m watching from outside, just enjoying and admiring the racing.”
“I’m sure I’ll get that answer at some point but I’m not putting a real deadline on it yet.
“I kind of want it to naturally take place and I think that will ultimately give me my clearest answer. An undisturbed answer.”
The questions, meanwhile, will keep coming.
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