Having to choose between several decent options is what you may describe as ‘a good problem to have’ but in Daniel Ricciardo’s situation, it also poses a unique challenge he’s never been faced with before in his career.
The Aussie driver grew up in the Red Bull set-up, getting promoted from Toro Rosso to the main team in 2014, as a replacement for the departing Mark Webber, and he’s been with the Austrian UK-based outfit ever since.
Ricciardo has claimed five grand prix victories with Red Bull Racing over the past four seasons and has finished third in the world championship race twice. The 28-year-old’s contract will run out next year and it’s likely he’ll have interest from the sport’s current big three – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
While securing a ride for 2019 early can offer peace of mind and stability, Ricciardo insists he won’t be making any decisions during the winter break and says he won’t be lured by any big money deals.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso – one of the most talented drivers on the grid – left Ferrari for McLaren at the close of 2014 and the Spaniard ended up driving a non-competitive car for the past three seasons.
Ricciardo is wary of making a similar mistake.
“That’s I think another reason why I’m a bit afraid to rush the decision. Because whatever I sign it’s unlikely going to be a one-year – it’s probably a multiple-year deal, I’m assuming,” Ricciardo told reporters in Abu Dhabi after qualifying fourth for Sunday’s grand prix.
“That then is probably the peak years of my career, is the next deal I sign, so I want to make sure I maximise that with my driving ability then, so that’s why I’m going to take my time and try to figure it out.”
Ricciardo is aware he’s facing this kind of predicament for the first time in his career, but he’s embracing it. He’s also clear on what his priorities are when making that decision.
“I highly, highly doubt I’ll be signing any dotted lines over the next month. Probably not event if I get a ridiculous offer. I think right now it’s not about the offer, it’s about who’s going to have the best car in 2019,” he said.
“It’s worth me just seeing how the start of the year goes. I don’t want to be too clever and think I’ll have every option possible but I think I’ve got enough time on my side to still sit it out a little bit.”
On the possibility of talking to all three powerhouse teams, Ricciardo said: “Talking to Red Bull is easier, because I know them already, the other two I guess if they’re interested they’ll need to make the approach.
“I don’t want to come across as desperate. Doesn’t work with the ladies either,” he added with a laugh.
Ricciardo sees “no merit” in deciding now but also believes he won’t leave it until late next year.
He knows there will be some discussions with Red Bull over the next couple of weeks but he wants to switch off during Christmas time and enjoy the Australian summer Down Under.
Does the uncertainty surrounding his future affect his driving? The Perth-native responds with confidence: “I mean, today I drove alright so… no it doesn’t!
“I think it would if I didn’t have a drive, if you know what I mean – I’d like to think there’s still some offers, even though I’m out of contract, I think there’s still some demand, whether it’s from Red Bull or others.
“I know Red Bull is certainly keen, at least from the small initial talks we’ve had. Obviously the longer I leave it, then I need to make sure I’m performing well into next year to still be desirable. But obviously if anything I’m confident I can get better.
“This year was at times challenging but I definitely feel that every year you get better, you progress, and I feel I’ve continued with that.”
Ricciardo enters Sunday’s final race of the season lying fourth in the championship standings, just seven points ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.