The F1 circus moves on after the hoopla in Texas with Daniel Ricciardo playing the clown as his career collapses.
Instead of a seat in F1 next year, Daniel Ricciardo might be better off sitting down with a psychologist, if his mood after the US Grand Prix in Texas is any indication.
The grin is gone and after riding into the F1 paddock on a horse, he might just as well have ridden it in the race.
The multiple GP winner is suffering not so much from a lack of horsepower but not begun able to rein in the McLaren MCL36.
The winner of eight GPs started 15th on the grid and finished 16th, while his McLaren teammate Lando Norris finished sixth.Embed from Getty Images
Haas and Williams are the only teams who might give Ricciardo a drive next year after his ignominious sacking from McLaren and they may also be losing interest.
Haas is an American team and Ricciardo is popular in America. Williams is at the tail-end of the grid and has just sacked Nicholas Latifi and might be better off with a rookie.
No one, least of all Ricciardo, can explain why he has failed at McLaren, except for a win at Monza last year, where Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton crashed out.
To be fair, Ricciardo was leading at the time and deserved the win, although there has been nothing since. No more smelly shoeys on the podium.
Most disheartening of all was seeing Norris lap the Honey Badger at Monaco with a wave of the hand.
Whether it was “see you later,” or “sorry you’ve having a tough time,” there seems little hope of resurrection with only three races to go.
Mexico is next weekend and Ricciardo is at rock bottom.
“I have no idea what to say,” he lamented in a hand-wringing interview after the race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin where the usual hoopla took place.
Ricciardo, dressed as a cowboy, said he was “embarrassed” when he rode the horse into the paddock; the name given to the area where the cars were parked in the days of grass-root racing.
Now the cars sit in their own garages and the drivers kick back in motor homes that cost millions.
“When you think it can’t get worse, it does,” said a doubly embarrassed Ricciardo after the race.
“I don’t know how I’m continuing to continue because painful is an understatement.”
When former world champion Jenson Button was asked if he could explain Ricciardo’s devastating loss of form, he told Sky Sports: “I can’t. It’s sad because he’s such a talent and to see him right at the back of the field, I can’t explain it.”
Nor can anyone else, including now double world champion Max Verstappen and seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, who were first and second in Texas.
Ricciardo is more likely to join either Red Bull or Mercedes as a reserve driver for next year rather than making up the numbers at Haas or Williams.
But, if that happens he will probably be forgotten as quickly as next season starts.
His place at McLaren is being taken by Melbourne driver Oscar Piastri, whose F1 career is starting as Ricciardo’s is about to finish. Once considered one of the top five drivers of the 20 elite drivers on the grid, the Honey Badger’s career is in the rear-view mirror.
Money is something he hasn’t lost, at least not yet. He is being paid some $14 million by McLaren for terminating his contract with a year still to go and that is US dollars.
Then there is the tens of millions of dollars he has been paid over his career with Red Bull, Renault and McLaren.
Too easy to say he should never have left Red Bull, where he won seven GP before his Monza win for McLaren.Embed from Getty Images
He left because he felt the team was being built around Verstappen. He was right about that, but little has worked for him since and a chance of rejoining Renault, now Alpine, was lost more because of his lack of form than because his masters at the French factory team held a grudge after he dumped them for McLaren.
At Austin on Sunday, Verstappen and Hamilton were at the top of their form. In the closing stages, Hamilton had a chance of winning before the Red Bull driver fought back from a disastrous pit stop, where he lost ten seconds during a sticky wheel change.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was third after teammate and pole sitter Carlos Sainz was knocked out of the race by Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, George Russell.
Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, was fourth and Russell fifth after a time penalty for driving into Sainz on the first lap.
As well as winning the US Grand Prix and the world drivers championship, Red Ball also won the world constructors championship the weekend Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz died after a long illness.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the victories were a tribute to Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire who was the co-founder and owner of the energy drink company that owned Red Bull Racing and junior partner AlphaTauri.
But, what now for Ricciardo?
The Haas seat seems the best option, although probably not the one he will take.
Haas team principal Güenther Steiner says he wants Ricciardo to call him if he wants the job, which will keep the Australian veteran in the public eye rather than as largely invisible as a reserve driver at either Red Bull or Mercedes.
No one is leaving soon and out of sight is out of mind.
Hamilton has told Mercedes team principal and part owner Toto Wolff he is looking at driving for another five years and Russell is at the start of what is likely to be a championship career.
At Red Bull, Verstappen has signed on until 2028 and Perez has signed an extension until 2028 after proving a race winner.