That is the dilemma facing Daniel Ricciardo, who must decide whether taking a year off will mean the end of a once brilliant career.
The Mexican Grand Prix roared to life on Sunday on lap 52 when a fight for 11th place took everyone’s mind off the procession following Max Verstappen.
The reason was Daniel Ricciardo’s sudden emergence from the depression that followed his last win, last year.
The grin was gone but now it’s back. Danny Ricc was stuck behind AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda before he made a dive up the inside.
Ricciardo should have pulled back to give Tsunoda room. The AlphaTauri rode over Ricciardo’s wheel and the Japanese driver’s race was over.
The stewards saw it the same way and slapped Ricciardo with a 10-second penalty.
A fired-up Ricciardo then gave a passing class that took him from 11th to seventh place in spite of the penalty.
Martin Brundle the Honey Badger should be given a penalty every race.
“Welcome back, Daniel,” said the Sky Sports commentator. “We missed you.”
“He’s driven with fire in his belly, hunger and aggression,” added David Croft.
There were signs in qualifying that Ricciardo might be emerging from what has been an inexplicable loss of form since he left Red Bull only to disappoint at Renault before being sacked at McLaren.
The saddest sight was being lapped at Monaco by McLaren teammate Lando Norris who waved as he went by.
Such has been his slump that this column has asked whether he should be seeking a chair with a pyschologist rather than a seat in F1.
Ricciardo would seem to agree, revealing he has been seeing a psych to find an answer.
At the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez on Sunday it was back to the future for a driver once considered in F1’s top five.
The carnival crowd was there to see Sergio Perez who finished third, with Lewis Hamilton second behind Verstappen, who led from start to finish apart from tyre changes.
Even the Mexicans had gone to sleep although rousing themselves to cheer Perez each time he swung past the baseball stadium grandstands.Embed from Getty Images
The most excited fan at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez was Checo’s father, who draped himself in the Mexican flag whenever he saw a camera pointing his way.
It was a reminder of the Rodriquez brothers and their father for those of us who have long memories.
Pedro and Ricardo Rodriquez’s father lost both his son’s amid the heavy toll of drivers who died in the 60s and 70s.
They were the first Mexican superstars and Sergio Perez has followed them. It has taken has taken him longer, but he has four F1 victories to from 233 starts after a record 189 races without a win.
Ricciardo has eight victories from 230 starts but whereas Perez has signed a contract extension for another year with Red Bull, Ricciardo admits he will not be on the grid next year.
He doesn’t want to make up the numbers racing in the back of the pack and will likely sign on with Red Bull or Mercedes next year as a reserve driver.
Even that is uncertain although Mercedes boss and part owner Toto Wolff appeared during an interview with Ricciardo to bump fists.
No one is likely to move from Mercedes any time soon with George Russell at the start of a championship career and Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time champion, telling Wolff he might stay on for another five years.
That may be ambitious, even for Hamilton, who will be 38 at the start of next season.
Ricciardo’s future is still to play out although a year off the F1 grid may be a year too long. Memories are short as new talent emerges and at 34 next season, Ricciardo might find himself one the grid of the forgotten.
Sunday, however, was a return to the Honey Badger of old, king of the late brakers and master of the pass as was seen on Sunday.
“Daniel, you’re a star,” as Elton John sang. There is also the line about Daniel “waving goodbye.”
But no one wants to see that.
Curiously, it is Max Verstappen, who has talked about the end of his career.
He has signed with Red Bull until 2028 but says he then might do something else rather than grow old in the cockpit like Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who started the driver silly season by announcing he was leaving Alpine next year.
Alpine junior driver Oscar Piastri then threw a spanner in the works team’s strategy by saying he was going to McLaren, which saw Ricciardo shuffled out of the mix.
In its way, that also saw a demonstration of the depth of Ricciardo’s character. In spite of his season of misery, he picked up the phone to congratulate the Melbourne driver taking his place. That shows class.
Piastri is 21 and has won all the junior championships, F3, F2 and the Formula Renault Cup over the past three years.
His move to McLaren meant the Alpine team put another Australian in 19-year-old Jack Doohan in the rookie seat at Mexico and for the last race at Abu Dhabi.
For those wondering why Doohan won’t be in the Alpine at the next race in Brazil, it is because the first practice session will be followed by a sprint race that decides grid positions.
But F1 will see more of Doohan, who is the son of five-times 500cc motorcycle champion Mick Doohan.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Asked about his son’s practice session on Sunday, Doohan said laconically: “He didn’t scrape the paint.”
DRIVER OF THE DAY
Yes, it was Daniel Ricciardo.