As IndyCar’s Colton Herta gears up for a Formula 1 test in Portimao, Portugal for the McLaren team, speculation has abounded about Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian racer hasn’t exactly been in fine form this year, playing second fiddle to his teammate Lando Norris, and all eyes are on Colton Herta as a potential Ricciardo replacement. But if Ricciardo leaves, he’s probably not going where you think. In fact, he’s probably going endurance racing.
Listen. I get it. Ricciardo is a fan of NASCAR, so some folks want to see him there. Others see series like IndyCar or Formula E as viable options for F1 outcasts who want a more level playing field on which to compete. But I’m going to be honest with you all: There are plenty of very good reasons why that’s not going to happen. And that means we’re probably going to see Ricciardo take on endurance racing — likely one of the new prototype programs — in the future.
Of course, this is all speculation on my part. I could be proven wrong. But y’know what? I’m confident that’s not going to happen.
Why Not NASCAR?
Daniel Ricciardo is a massive NASCAR fan and has been since he was a child. With programs like Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91, which is designed to put international racers behind the wheel of a stock car, it does seem to be a possibility.
But it isn’t for one simple reason: Ricciardo doesn’t want to race ovals. When I asked him if he’d be interested in ever competing on ovals, his answer was a big ol’ nope:
Yeah, maybe at a lower level, yes, just to kind of dip my toe in the water, but like if someone offered me, “Do you want to race NASCAR this weekend on an oval?” I’d be like, “No, I’ll walk before I can run.”
Could we see Ricciardo moonlighting as a NASCAR driver? Absolutely. I don’t doubt that we could see him competing on road courses with the series. But he’s not coming to NASCAR for a full season. It’s just not happening.
Why Not IndyCar?
Ricciardo will also likely avoid IndyCar. Again, there are the concerns with the ovals, but a road- and street-course program likely isn’t happening, either.
Look. I love IndyCar. I will go to bat for IndyCar every single day of my life. But Ricciardo is too high-profile for IndyCar, a series that offers $30,000 for a race win and paltry six-figure incomes for its star drivers, The Drive reports. F1 keeps its financial wheelings and dealings a secret, but RacingNews365 estimates that Ricciardo earns an annual salary of $15 million from McLaren — which is a salary that could, honestly, fund a good portion of the IndyCar grid.
Sure, Ricciardo could bring some sponsorship dollars to IndyCar, but what’s the benefit to him? He’s one of the highest-profile drivers on the current F1 grid if only for his personality. He would gain nothing in IndyCar — not prestige, not money, not race results in the events that matter (i.e. the Indy 500). It’s just not happening.
Why Not Formula E?
Like IndyCar, Formula E is generally considered the series where former F1 drivers go to eke out the last dregs of their open-wheel racing career (though I think that does a deep disservice to the quality of racing provided by both series). Unlike IndyCar, each driver on the FE grid is paid.
Top earners in FE were estimated by The Race to be earning around $2 million per year back in 2020, but the average salary was somewhere around $750,000.
Let’s assume Ricciardo would be one of those top earners. He’d still be making a fraction of what he’s making in F1, but he’d be doing a lot less work to get it, since FE drivers clock in less than a month of days on track each year.
But Formula E just doesn’t have the prestige. It’s a World Championship, yes — but look to any comments section on any website that has ever written about FE, and you’ll find countless people slamming the series. A combo of 45-minute races, single-day events, slowly evolving technology, and goofy race organization has left the series consistently fighting for legitimacy. Formula E would need Ricciardo more than Ricciardo would need Formula E, and I just can’t see him making that step.
Could He Stay in F1?
I’ve had too many long conversations about Ricciardo’s potential options when it comes to remaining in F1, and honestly? I don’t think the prospects are great. McLaren isn’t exactly a Championship-winning team at the moment, but with his consistently poor results compared to his teammate, Ricciardo isn’t going to be the McLaren driver that gets promoted to a Mercedes, Red Bull, or Ferrari. AlphaTauri is off the table after Ricciardo left the Red Bull Junior Program. The remaining teams aren’t competitive and likely won’t be able to provide the salary or results Ricciardo has come to expect.
Maybe Ricciardo could stay in F1. Maybe. But I’ve heard rumors that there are a handful of reasons why he’s not exactly a sought-after commodity in the F1 world, meaning that remaining in F1 would likely be a last-ditch effort.
Why Endurance Racing?
So, what’s left on the table for Ricciardo? In my eyes, it’s going to be endurance racing, likely with the World Endurance Championship.
See, Ricciardo has already said that he’s interested in racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which makes WEC an easy choice. No, the salaries for WEC drivers aren’t exactly massive, but the WEC calendar does also offer the prestige of historic events. If you were a racing driver, what race would you rather win: the six hours of Monza, the Jakarta ePrix, or the Honda Indy 200?
If Ricciardo is going to WEC, he’s going to a top-level prototype team. He’s going to be a hypercar driver. That title alone carries some clout, but he’ll also be associated with the technical advancements currently happening in the endurance world. He’ll have a handful of races a year to contest (many of which are longstanding pinnacles of motorsport history), leaving him with ample opportunities to produce TV shows or give high-profile interviews. He’ll be able to keep his name on the motorsport map and his thumb on pop culture. It just makes sense. It’s the only place I can see him going.
McLaren is claiming that Ricciardo is firmly settled in the team for 2023, so we could still have a year for these factors to change in a way that would make remaining in F1 a more favorable proposition than anything else — but I’m thinking we’re going to see a surprising end to the contract well before the start of the 2023 season. And if that happens, I have just one thing to say: Daniel Ricciardo, prove me wrong.