The 2022 Grand Prix season ends and with it what might have been the last race in Daniel Ricciardo’s career.
A “burn-out” after what could be the last Grand Prix of his career has left us wondering if Daniel Ricciardo’s depressing lack of form was because of “burn-out.”
The Honey Badger has sat in a psychologist’s chair looking for answers after losing his seat with McLaren with a year still to run on his contract.
Ironically, Sebastian Vettel was also wreathed in clouds of burning rubber as he performed farewell donuts on his retirement from F1.
Vettel left Red Bull after winning four world championships.
Ricciardo had humiliated him by winning three GPs in his first year as his teammate in a year when Vettel failed to win a race.
Now, it has been Ricciardo’s turn to be embarrassed by Lando Norris who consistently out qualified and outraced him at McLaren.
Why it it so?
The answer is that no one knows, least of all Ricciardo, who won seven GPs at Red Bull and a line victory at McLaren at Monza last year when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen crashed, although Ricciardo was leading at the time.Embed from Getty Images
There was the humiliation at Monaco when the Australian driver who lives in Monaco was lapped by Norris with a wave of his hand.
Ricciardo’s parents were at Abu Dhabi on Sunday to embrace their son before and after the race that might have drawn his career to a close.
Red Bull Racing is likely to offer him a slot as a reserve driver next year, which Ricciardo thinks may see him back on the grid in 2024.
How that might work with only the chance of a drive if either Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez can’t take their seats is debatable.
There is also much humble pie to be eaten in the case of Ricciardo signing up for the fill-in role.
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko says Ricciardo as number three driver would have to turn up at sponsorship days for what he called “show runs.”
Demo drives for business biggies is another way of describing it.
What then at the end of 2023?
Stepping into a full-time seat alongside Verstappen (the reason he left Red Bull in the first place) would mean the team dropping “Checo” Perez, who has won four races for Red Bull.
There is potential for further trouble at Red Bull following the Dutch driver’s refusal to obey team orders to let Perez through at the Brazil Grand Prix.
Verstappen said he had his “reasons,” which follow the Mexican driver stopping qualifying at Monaco this year after hitting the wall leading into the tunnel.
Perez was lying third while Verstappen was behind him in fourth.
That meant Perez started the race ahead of Verstappen who looked likely to set the fastest time had his teammate not ended the session. Was the Perez crash deliberate?
Cockpit vision showed Perez doing very little to prevent the Red Bull hitting the wall, but the risk of doing could have meant a gearbox change, which would have put Perez at the back of the grid for the race.
At the least, it demonstrated Verstappen’s anger for what he would have considered a mistake by Perez that prevented him from a victory on a circuit where it is almost impossible to pass during a race.
“It shows who he really is,” said Perez on team radio in Brazil when Verstappen refused to let him pass for an extra point against Charles Leclerc in the race for runner-up in this year’s championship.
This has opened up speculation on the influence Verstappen has over those supposedly running the team and his apparent preference for Ricciardo over Perez.
Would Red Bull dump Perez at the end of the 2023 season to please Verstappen?
This would depend on Perez continuing to drive for Verstappen as much as himself.
An example being the Mexican driver “backing up” Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi last year to help Verstappen win the championship.
“Checo is a legend,” said Verstappen over team radio, which might make anyone think that his refusal to let Perez past in Brazil casts doubt on any feud between the two drivers.
F1 drivers are predictable when it comes down to winning. Since the Brazil incident, Verstappen has taken every opportunity to talk about the “team,” which is meant to sooth ruffled feathers more than anything else.
Grand Prix drivers, and there are only 20 of them on the grid, are all about winning.
They are consumed with winning in a sport that describes itself as a team effort but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty is very much personal.
You don’t become a Grand Prix driver by playing Mr Nice Guy. It is high-risk for high reward with drivers at the sharp end of the grid being paid in millions.
Ricciardo picked up some $14.5 million for having the last year of his contract cancelled. Lewis Hamilton is paid some $40 million and Max Verstappen is on $45 million after signing with Red Bull until 2028 and this is all this is in US dollars.
Back to Sunday’s race at Abu Dhabi and it proved to be a good race for Ricciardo who denied Aston Martin an end-of-year $18 million by finishing ninth ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
Had Vettel been able to pass Ricciardo, Aston Martin would have taken sixth place from Alfa Romeo in the constructors’ championship and the extra money that went with it.
The race was another master class from Verstappen, who led from pole to finish with Leclerc second for Ferrari and Red Bull’s Perez third on the podium.
While considering the obvious talents of the best-of-the-best drivers in the world, it must be recognised they need the right car to win.
That was clear from Mercedes’ dominance during Hamilton’s seven world titles and now Honda’s dominance in powering Red Bull to the constructors’ title and Verstappen to a record 15 race wins in 2022.
There will be 24 races next year with Las Vegas again staging a Grand Prix, but not in the car park at Caesar’s Palace where Australia’s Alan Jones won in 1981 after becoming world champion.
It will be a night race along the gambling city’s famous neon strip.
China and Qatar will return next year, with Melbourne hosting the third race on on April 2 before returning in 2024 as the season opener.
Will Daniel Ricciardo be making his reappearance on the Albert Park grid after sitting in the stands with the rest of us next year?
That is as big a question as why the Honey Badger lost his mojo.
Melbourne junior champion Oscar Piastri has taken Ricciardo’s seat at McLaren and it may be that another career has started as Ricciardo’s has finished.