Verstappen signing a 3 year deal with Red Bull essentially closes an interesting narrative for the 2019 driver market. But the frenzy of next year’s silly season is far from over. Red Bull by clearly offering Verstappen the opportunity to mold the team around him, have given an intent of purposes. Now that Verstappen is their star and Sainz is waiting in the wings, Ricciardo is an expendable asset now. With Ricciardo’s 2019 future in the balance, one has to wonder, what next?
All of this came after Ricciardo issued an ultimatum to the team for the next year. So this can be seen as Red Bull’s answer to the Aussie. So with all due respect, its time for Ricciardo to move to pastures anew come the end of 2018. But where will he go?
A Case for Ricciardo
The answer is Mercedes should grab him up and let go of Bottas. To be fair to Bottas he signed pretty late and hence 2017 was always going to be difficult for him. But on the other hand, as the season progressed, he should have gotten better. On an average, the gap in qualifying between him and Hamilton has ranged between 4 to 5 tenth of a second. And this gap has allowed Vettel to take his Ferrari to P2 on various circuits where, on paper, it shouldn’t have been higher than P3. This has made both the Constructors and Drivers championship harder to win.
So unless Bottas lifts his game considerably for 2018, dropping him in favor of Ricciardo makes sense.
Ricciardo is a very affable character off the track and his jolly relationship with Hamilton shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the team dynamics. But that’s not the only reason to sign him. Hamilton’s current contract expires in 2018. And he has given clear indication to continue. The reason he says is that 2017’s rivalry with Vettel ignited a spark in him. But who knows, a straightforward run to the championship next year could wane his interest. And in that case, Mercedes would need a driver who can lead the charge and Bottas, although a good racer, is not that strong. And even in case Hamilton signs an extension, it’ll only be till 2020. Ricciardo would still be 31 and in his prime to lead the charge for Mercedes in the new engine era.
What makes signing the Aussie even more important is that if in case Mercedes fails to sign Verstappen for post-2020, they would need him because of the current lot, only he can go toe to toe with the Dutch.
What about Bottas?
Remember when Bottas signed the deal Hamilton’s father issued a veiled warning. “Anybody who goes up against Lewis needs to have planned their career correctly because it could be a career-ending move” were his exact words. And this is becoming increasingly true for Bottas.
To be honest though Bottas never was in a comfortable position. Mercedes despite jockeying so much for the Finn handed him only a 1-year deal. The reason? A blunt statement that Bottas need to convince Mercedes that he deserves a long-term deal and that they wanted to keep their options open for next year. Notice the last part because it’ll return again. Taking 2 wins, 2 poles and 8 podiums in the first half of the season he had seemingly did enough to earn a multi-year deal. But once again he was doled out a one-year extension for 2018. The reason? We want to keep our options open. No surprise it would have preyed on Bottas’s mind having done the best he could.
And this is where Ferrari should step in. Bottas was already on Ferrari’s shopping list for 2015 and 2016 before they signed an extension with Kimi. This practice was looking increasingly likely to be stopped this year with Perez and Grosjean being a strong case. But both the drivers would not have played a rear gunner to Vettel like Kimi does and hence it was decided against taking either of the two. Bottas present a very lucrative solution for Ferrari as it is clear now that he’s not at the same level as Hamilton and Vettel. Also, the Finn is quite apolitical and he can recreate the harmony within the team as it prevails right now with Vettel and Kimi.
Compared to his compatriot, the Young Finn is faster. It’ll prove to be an asset for the team in both the championships. By giving a multi-year deal to Bottas would provide a sense of stability to the Finn as well on top of having the prestige to drive for Ferrari. And Ferrari would be benefitted too in having the perfect replacement for Kimi.
On the Mercedes camp, signing Ricciardo would provide a better competitive standing for the team. Not to mention a contingency option as well. He is a PR dream come true as well. While for Ricciardo, moving to Mercedes is a no-brainer as it provides him the opportunity to fight for wins and possibly even championships.