Spielberg: Daniel Ricciardo hinted Thursday that Red Bull’s switch to Honda engines in 2019 might bring him closer to extending his contract with the Formula One team.
With his contract expiring at the end of the year, the Australian driver has been at the centre of speculation for weeks, with Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren reportedly showing interest in signing the seven-time Grand Prix winner.
But his current employer recently confirmed its long anticipated break-up with engine-maker Renault, which could ease decision-making for Ricciardo.
“(Red Bull) have committed to Honda, so they’ve kind of got all the cards on the table, so I know what I’m getting there,” Ricciardo said. “Things are starting to get to a point where I know what’s what.”
While Ricciardo refrained from giving his opinion on the Honda deal last week, he said “I see the pros with the decision” as it would mean “obviously, the chance to start something new with Honda.”
The 12-year relationship between Red Bull and Renault became increasingly strained in recent seasons, after they had racked up four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship with Sebastian Vettel from 2010-13.
Red Bull have won just 10 races since the start of the 2014 season, when Ricciardo joined the team.
Having won two of eight races this season, in Shanghai and Monaco, Ricciardo is third in the drivers’ championship. But the distance to Ferrari’s Vettel in second place is 35 points while Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is another 14 points further ahead in the lead.
Over the last few weeks Ricciardo repeatedly denied being contacted by rival teams. Still, he didn’t rush to sign a new deal with Red Bull, either.
With its “home” race coming up this weekend on the energy-drink sponsored track and the driver celebrating his 29th birthday on race day, both the time and place would have been perfect for Red Bull to announce Ricciardo’s extended stay. But the Australian repeated he will take another “few weeks” to make his mind up.
“In a way, it’s a good thing that they have made a decision. It gives me a bit more clarity of the direction the team’s going,” Ricciardo said, adding he planned to announce his decision before Formula One goes into its three-week summer break following the July 29 Hungarian GP.
Ricciardo’s decision is the only box Red Bull still has to tick for next season, with the Honda deal sealed and the contract with its other driver, Max Verstappen, running until 2020.
Hamilton picked up on Friday morning where he left off in France last Sunday by topping the times for Mercedes in both free practice sessions for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Five days after his triumph at Le Castellet, the defending world champion headed his teammate Finn Valtteri Bottas in a dominant showing by Mercedes.
The 33-year-old Briton clocked a best lap in one minute and 4.579 seconds to outpace Bottas as the Mercedes men demonstrated the potential of their cars’ revised aerodynamic package.
Mercedes have introduced updated side-pods, front and rear wings just a week after using a revised power unit for the first time in France.
Max Verstappen saw third fastest in the first session and Vettel the best of the rest in the second session.