THERE is no shortage of opinions on what Daniel Ricciardo should do when his contract with Red Bull ends at the end of the season.
Few are as well-informed as Mark Webber’s. After all, he was in a similar position not too many years ago.
Webber was team leader at Red Bull when the team finally put together a winning car, only for Sebastian Vettel to arrive. Substitute the names — ‘Webber’ for ‘Ricciardo’, ‘Vettel’ for ‘Verstappen’ — and the younger Australian’s situation begins to have a familiar ring.
LIVE stream every race of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship AD-FREE on FOX SPORTS. Get your free 2-week Foxtel Now trial and start watching in minutes. SIGN UP NOW >
Ricciardo looms as the key player in F1’s driver transfer market, with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari each having just one driver locked up for the 2019 season.
Now retired from active duty for over a year, Webber was trackside at last weekend’s Bathurst 12 Hour through his continuing relationship with Porsche as an ambassador.
When asked by foxsports.com.au, Webber believes Ricciardo’s mission for his contract considerations is simple.
“I think the best thing he can do is beat Max,” he said.
“That’s the best thing he can do. Which he knows, and he’s going to do his best to do that. If he wants to try and have a crack at that for five-six months, then look at the options.”
Those options will be dictated by the continuing availability of seats.
MERCEDES IN NO HURRY
The clearest option for Ricciardo away from Red Bull is at Mercedes.
Valtteri Bottas was brought in last year as the replacement for Nico Rosberg, and impressed the team enough for them to keep him for 2018.
Beyond that, Webber’s not expecting a decision by the team until at least the middle of the year.
Of Ricciardo’s prospects at engineering a switch, he said: “That’s like dog’s balls, everyone can see that coming.
“There’s an obvious link — they’re both out of contract, he’s a top-flight driver and there’s a chance for a switch.
“I don’t think Mercedes will be rushing to make a decision either, they’re going to keep a good eye on Valtteri and see how he’s performing, probably until Canada.”
RED BULL POLITICS NOT AN ISSUE
Staying at Red Bull is the other clear option.
Team boss Christian Horner maintains that his preference is to keep his current driver line-up and he’s ready to wait for Ricciardo to make up his mind.
Max Verstappen signed a new deal with the team last October to extend his stay until the end of 2020, Horner quoted in the announcement as saying Verstappen can “build the team around him.”
Verstappen was a latecomer to the Red Bull junior program, only signing on in mid-2015 — and only when it was clear that it would be willing to put him into an F1 car sooner rather than later.
Red Bull’s bosses have taken a shine to the young Dutchman, but that doesn’t mean Ricciardo would face relegation to No. 2 status by staying.
“Red Bull will support the guy that’s leading the championship and doing the business,” Webber said.
“If that’s Daniel, I reckon he’s still in great shape there, to be honest, because he is a Red Bull product.
“I don’t think Helmut would be disappointed to see Daniel as world champion.
“But he loves Max as well. They’re both his favourite guys.
“But if he’s beating Max and Red Bull are flying again, why would he leave?
“At the end of the day, I don’t think Dan’s too bothered what colour the car is. He just wants to win.
“That’s what he’s aiming to do, and it’s hard to win consistently. They don’t hand them out.
“He’s totally capable of it, but he’s just got to find himself in a position where he can get that opportunity.”