Out-of-contract Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that Red Bull Racing is his only top-team option for 2019 as he seeks to nail down a deal to keep him in the sport beyond the end of the season.
Although four of the top six seats at Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Mercedes are held by drivers with expiring contracts, Ricciardo has been considered the key piece of the driver market puzzle as the man most likely to initiate a move away from his Milton Keynes team.
Speculation has been rife since the Bahrain Grand Prix in April that he had entered negotiations with Ferrari, but more recently talks appeared to have cooled, with the Scuderia now tipped to replace the struggling Kimi Raikkonen with rising Sauber star Charles Leclerc, who is also a member of Ferrari’s young driver programme.
Speaking to journalists on Saturday afternoon, Ricciardo suggested his options had been whittled down to one.
“Obviously if it wasn’t Red Bull, they [Ferrari and Mercedes] are the two most attractive options,” he said. “If they’re not possible, then for me now it’s hard to be convinced that another option is better than Red Bull.
“For sure not every door is closed, I guess, but it’s looking more and more likely the other top teams will probably remain with their line-ups.
“I don’t have the facts on that, but you kind of just read between the lines and feel that that’s probably going to remain.
“It’s just making sure I’m right with my judgements.”
But the Australian shed little further light on when he might put pen to paper.
“It’s obviously looking more likely that I’ll probably remain, but there still hasn’t been any pen to paper. It’s just still trying to get a few last things sorted.”
Turning his attention to tomorrow’s race after qualifying a distant sixth, Ricciardo said is team never really expected to be able to challenge at a circuit that has become increasingly power-sensitive in this era of high-downforce cars.
“I think now what used to be a downforce circuit is now just a horsepower circuit because turns one, two, nine, 10, 11 are all full throttle,” he said. “Having a lot of downforce actually doesn’t help us out too much; we lose a lot down the straights.
“We haven’t really been quick enough to challenge Ferrari or Mercedes from the start.”
Adding further difficulty to his task was that his DRS wasn’t working down the Wellington straight, losing him crucial straight-line speed.
“I would guess it’s probably two to three tenths. I don’t think it would’ve changed my position, but it’s just more frustrating.”
But Ricciardo remained optimistic that there might be more to come for the race. With the unusually warm temperatures forecast to continue into Sunday, managing tyre wear might become a key strategic battleground in what could be a two-stop race.
“We haven’t really been quick enough to challenge Ferrari or Mercedes from the start,” he said. “After yesterday we knew where we’d be, so we’ve gone for more of a race set-up, and we’re hoping that will give us a bit more tomorrow.”