Wildcard rises in Ricciardo contract saga
DANIEL Ricciardo has been urged by leading Formula 1 commentator James Allen to move on from Red Bull at the end of 2018.
The Aussie star is the highest-profile driver off-contract at the end of this season with ongoing contract negotiations with Red Bull delayed until at least April.
Mercedes and Ferrari - two teams that both have open seats for the 2019 season - are reportedly the most likely destination for the 28-year-old if he decides to leave Red Bull.
Ricciardo has previously said the performance of teams early this season will be the most decisive factor in his contract decision and will stay with Red Bull if they can show promise of challenging for a championship next year.
With Red Bull already signing Dutch star Max Verstappen on a long-term deal, Allen said Ricciardo will be better off leaving the only F1 outfit he has ever known since first coming through the Toro Rosso system.
"I think it's going to be very hard for him to beat Verstappen in the same car, so even if the new Red Bull is a race winner he has to move on for the sake of his career, unless he can find some way to unsettle the Dutchman, as Nico Rosberg managed with Lewis Hamilton in 2016," Allen wrote.
"But looking at the pair and their characters, it doesn't seem to be in Ricciardo to do that. It would be more likely the other way around.
"Verstappen has all the hallmarks of a once in a generation driver, the only things that would stop him being a multiple champion are; being in the wrong car and losing discipline and focus in his life.
"If he decides to move on, Mercedes and Ferrari both have openings at the end of 2018 and Ricciardo has already been linked with both."
However, Allen believes McLaren is still a legitimate chance of securing the Aussie's signature.
McLaren recently signed drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne for the 2018 season, but it is unclear if the pair are contracted beyond the upcoming season.
Allen said Ricciardo's friendship with McLaren executive director Zak Brown means the former English giant would be a comfortable fit for the Australian.
McLaren suffered through a disastrous 2017 campaign and have made a switch from a Honda power-unit to a Renault engine in a bid to challenge for spots on the podium this year.
If they are able to keep pace with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, Allen says they will be in the hunt when Ricciardo gets serious about deciding his future.
"McLaren is another possibility for Ricciardo due to a strong relationship with Zak Brown, but they are some way off winning a world title and that is Ricciardo's first order priority in the next two to three years," Allen said.
"After that he risks what happened to Fernando Alonso; younger drivers like Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen came along and there was no longer an opening in a title worthy car."
Ricciardo said last week he expects to resume contract talks with Red Bull after the first few races of the Formula One season that starts in Melbourne in March.
The 28-year-old has an important decision to make, with his next move likely to be crucial to his hopes of becoming his country's first world champion since Alan Jones in 1980.
"Nothing has really developed since the end of the season. I switched off from F1," Ricciardo told Sky Sports TV during the first round of pre-season testing in Spain on Thursday (AEDT).
"I think realistically around April things will start to be spoken. After a few races, hopefully I win the first few and I can have a powerful say in what I do."
- with AAP