Daniel Ricciardo says he is prepared to walk away from Formula One for a while if the right opportunities do not emerge for him following the announcement of his break-up with McLaren.
Back on duty for his British team before the Belgian Grand Prix on Thursday less than 24 hours since they announced their split at the end of this season, Ricciardo made his revelation about taking a possible sabbatical.
But the Australian, whose future is up in the air, was given welcome backing from one of his most distinguished fellow drivers, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who predicted he would bounce back from his disappointment.
Asked if he might consider a spell away from F1 if he did not get the right offers to continue, Ricciardo told reporters while facing a challenging press conference at Spa: “If it made sense, yes. It’s the only racing I’m interested in. At this stage of my career, F1 is what I love and it’s where I see myself if I’m doing any racing.
“But let’s say the stars don’t align and it doesn’t make perfect sense next year. If it means taking that time off to reset and re-evaluate, then if that’s the right thing to do, I’m willing to.”
Ricciardo, who is ending his contract with McLaren at the end of the season a year early after a series of disappointing results, reiterated that he had been “proud” of his efforts over two seasons at McLaren.
“It’s obviously not like the nicest feeling but I look back on it and I can hold my head up high in terms of applying myself and trying to make make it work,” he said. Sometimes you just have to accept ‘I tried but it didn’t work out’. I’m proud of the way we tried to make it happen and persist through it but some things, you might say, are not meant to be.
“But I still love the sport and through all this – I guess, call it adversity – I haven’t lost confidence in myself. I still love it and want to do it competitively. I’ve never said I just want to be a driver to make up the numbers. If I’m here, I want to be here for a purpose.
“So I don’t know what that means yet for the future but, of course, if it’s the right opportunity, that’s where I want to be.”
Aston Martin’s Vettel, for one, believes Ricciardo is far from finished in F1. Telling reporters he was sad to see the Australian lose his seat, Ricciardo’s former Red Bull colleague said, “I had the pleasure to race against him and the not so pleasurable side of getting beaten by him years ago.
“I don’t know the details, but I guess McLaren failed to extract the potential that he has. I’m sure that, ultimately, the talent he has and the qualities he has will shine through.”
But Ricciardo’s current teammate Lando Norris said he had no sympathy for his outgoing colleague, who is now in the strange position of having to race nine more grand prix for the team before leaving.
Ricciardo has scored a mere 19 points, with a highest position of sixth, this season compared to Norris’s 76 from 13 races and a third place at Imola. Norris said he was just focusing on his own performance, rather than his teammate.
“It’s not my job to focus on someone else. I’m not a driver coach,” he said. “I’m here to perform at my absolute best, and that’s about it. So it’s difficult when people start to have this expectation that it’s my job to also start doing these other things and helping and describing this and doing that.
“It’s also the case that if I don’t perform well for a few years that it could also be the end of my career and me driving in Formula One.”