Hamilton's new Mercedes deal likely to force Ricciardo's hand
A few weeks ago, Daniel Ricciardo had the pick of the best seats in F1. Now, he may be forced into staying at Red Bull Racing amidst his trepidation.
The Australian, whose contract at Tilbrook is up at the end of the 2018 season, had been talk of the paddock after winning two of the opening six races, with both Mercedes and Ferrari viable options for next season.
While results have been a struggle for Ricciardo since his Monaco GP victory in May - he hasn't returned to the podium in the subsequent five races - the field has changed significantly. Red Bull Racing have signed a new engine deal and will be powered by the temperamental and much-maligned Honda engines in 2019 and potentially beyond. The news does not appear to have thrilled Ricciardo either, citing Mercedes and Ferrari as the two most attractive options.
And with Mercedes firming up their driver line-up for next season, not only securing Lewis Hamilton on the biggest contract in F1 history but also Valtteri Bottas for a third season with the Silver Arrows, Ricciardo now looks set to remain in Tilbrook for a sixth season.
Ferrari look likely to retain Kimi Raikkonen for another season before promoting Sauber sensation Charles Leclerc in 2020 - his destination likely to be Haas for 2019.
After four-and-a-half years without a podium finish, and even longer since their last victory, McLaren had been outsiders to poach the Australian to Woking for next season as they seek a return to the sharp end of the grid, especially as their current star Fernando Alonso appears ever-more desperate to leave the team in favour of Indycar for next season.
That move would see Ricciardo remain with the Renault engines he currently has, but their unreliability and distinct short-comings compared to Mercedes and Ferrari engines could prove just as much a hindrance as they have been at Tilbrook since he arrived at the team. But despite McLaren's big talk heading into the new season, they are comfortably the slowest of the Renault -powered cars this season.
Should Ricciardo remain, he will partner Max Verstappen again - the Dutchman's future has long-since been secured until 2020. And he will stay within the same Red Bull fold who showed faith in him in the junior categories and orchestrated his first F1 drive in 2011 with HRT.
All that is needed now is for him to sign the contract.