Daniel Ricciardo threatened at McLaren, Colton Herta, Lando Norris, contract
You could forgive Daniel Ricciardo if he was powerless to resist peeking over his shoulder this weekend in Miami.
The Australian has made no secret of his love affair with the United States, but it is on these shores that there would be a major threat to his long-term future in F1.
That’s only if you have to believe the rumours, of course.
Watch all the practice, qualifying and races of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship™ live on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try free for 14 days >
PIT TALK: ‘No comfort’: McLaren slams on the brakes; the strange Miami track roasted by the world of F1
‘A LITTLE LOST’: Rumors cloud Ricciardo’s McLaren future
Major F1 shake-up as two car giants prepare takeover bid and ‘tempting’ alliance
Amid Ricciardo’s ongoing struggles with McLaren, the team is said to be eyeing 22-year-old American IndyCar driver Colton Herta.
F1 is becoming globally younger, and more American, opening the door to unprecedented business opportunities.
Ticking those two boxes is Herta, which has signed a deal with McLaren to test this year with its 2021 car.
Teams aren’t spending the time, effort and money to run year-old cars for young drivers for fun. Herta has been named by McLaren as a potential future F1 star.
“Yes, we now have a plan set up for Colton,” said McLaren US owner Zak Brown. RUNNER last month. “It’s up to (team principal) Andreas Seidl to communicate that to the outside when he’s ready to do so.
“But yes, we have a plan.”
A plan alone does not indicate that McLaren is ready to shove Ricciardo, who is only 32 and remains one of F1’s most formidable drivers of his time.
Those words from Brown would nonetheless be hard for Ricciardo to ignore.
It was hoped that a second year at McLaren under new regulations would provide the much-needed boost to Ricciardo’s career.
Instead, he continued to struggle, as the gap between him and 22-year-old teammate Lando Norris only widened.
Veteran F1 journalist Joe Saward wrote last week that Ricciardo still seemed uneasy at McLaren, opening the door to speculation surrounding his seat.
“Daniel Ricciardo seems a bit lost at McLaren and there continue to be rumors that in 2024 (if not sooner) Daniel will be replaced by Colton Herta, the American who Zak Brown believes could open the doors to Formula 1 to American companies,” Saward said. wrote in his column.
“We’ll have to see if Herta has what it takes to be an F1 star, but he seems to have the speed.”
It’s true that in 2022, the vultures tend to turn in circles too early, when no journalist can put Ricciardo alone in the gun.
Yet its results remain well below expectations and will inevitably open the door to such speculation.
Ricciardo has only finished in the points once this season, his best result being sixth in Australia.
Norris, meanwhile, more than tripled his points tally – including a podium at Imola – and outqualified Ricciardo in all four races.
The results alone don’t tell the whole story. It must be recognized that Ricciardo took a retirement in Saudi Arabia and was ordered to stay behind Norris in Australia despite a better race pace.
At Imola, however, Ricciardo was responsible for an unusual mistake that ruined his run from a strong position.
Ricciardo took fifth at the start but, despite being known for his courage under braking, was largely passed in the wet by Carlos Sainz.
This left Ricciardo rushing at the entrance which eventually saw him take too much pavement, forcing him into Sainz.
The mistake was somewhat reminiscent of a pilot who, for the first time, was beginning to lose confidence.
Despite his cheerful and smiling attitude, we know that Ricciardo is not immune to the effects of public criticism.
That was clear when he claimed a stunning victory at Monza last year, before acknowledging his doubts on the team radio.
“And for anyone who thought I was gone; I never left. I just stepped aside for a while,” he said.
THE MISSING PIECE OF F1 THAT WILL GET OUT OF THE PROBLEM FOR RICCIARDO
It’s rare in F1 for drivers to be released from their contract – and Ricciardo’s has a third year to run.
But amid new financial opportunities in the United States, the race to recruit an American driver is surely on.
It seems to be the missing piece of the F1 puzzle that came together remarkably well under the owners of Liberty Media, who blazed the category’s path in the United States, where it has had a troubled past.
This year there will be two races in the United States; a debut event in Miami this weekend and the United States Grand Prix in Texas where there were a record 400,000 fans last year.
Next year F1 will return to Las Vegas where it will hold a flagship event on the Strip.
An American pilot, however, remains elusive. There hasn’t been one since Alexander Rossi completed a handful of races in 2015.
It’s now surely one of the biggest business opportunities in the sport to stick an American in a cockpit for three home races in 2023.
An American driver could appear in many places, primarily among smaller teams who are more likely to sign drivers based on potential financial benefits, not just talent.
But we can’t ignore the fact that this place could be Ricciardo’s.
Norris is undoubtedly on firmer ground at McLaren after signing a new contract last year which will see him through to the end of the 2025 season.
At just 22, he is a more sensible long-term option as his performances over the past two years – which have included five podium finishes – have been vastly better than Ricciardo’s.
The fact that McLaren are already watching Herta closely only puts even more pressure on Ricciardo.
Herta is already a six-time winner in IndyCar and has already flirted with an entry into F1.
Last year he was reportedly set to race for Sauber – who races under the Alfa Romeo badge – until a takeover bid from his current employer, American Michael Andretti, fell through .
“People were saying it was 50% or 60%,” Herta told the Indianapolis Star. “Even then, it was much closer than that.”
Herta also told the publication that he was scheduled to test in a Ferrari at his Fiorano circuit, and was faster than Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi in simulations at Sauber.
A deal did not materialize and McLaren have since decided to add Herta to their testing program in 2022, which will see Ricciardo looking over his shoulder.
“If (Ricciardo) keeps building, I probably won’t get that opportunity, but I hope Lando kicks his ass a bit more, so I can at least have a chance,” Herta said recently.
“Obviously, I would never wish on someone. I’m not praying for his downfall. If he does well, good for him – he deserves the seat. I guess it’s all in his hands for the future, but part of me is kind of hoping for the opportunity, at least a little foot in the door to maybe show what I can do.
The good news for the Aussie is that there are still 18 races to come this year, giving him ample opportunity to quell the rumours.
Last year’s Italian Grand Prix proved that Ricciardo had experience and could still find the speed when a golden opportunity presented itself.
It’s a valuable and rare trait in itself that McLaren would do well not to ignore.
Still, the occasional flash in the pan may no longer be enough to protect Ricciardo if Herta continues to impress.