What next for Verstappen and Ricciardo?

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

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    Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing speaks with members of the media after taking part in a rafting session in the Lachine Rapids. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images).

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    As Ferrari’s title bid flounders, Red Bull is in the midst of a revival, yet it faces difficult questions in the coming twelve months related to its own future plans, as its current roster contemplate their options.

    Incumbents Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are tied to the squad next season, with an option on the latter through 2019, though uncertainty regarding the energy drinks company’s ongoing presence in Formula One means both are already posturing for alternative employers.

    Particularly in the latter’s case, the Dutchman’s campaign having been neutralised by chronic reliability issues, however it remains to be seen whether the Milton Keynes outfit’s recent improvements have restored his faith in the regime.

    Helmut Marko last week admitted to Auto Motor und Sport that Ricciardo “is already on the market. We have to look for alternatives. We will not be unprepared”, the Australian having joined the squad in 2014. Yet what must be answered initially is the elephant in the room. More precisely, elephants in the room.

    Red Bull’s impending engine supplier Honda’s fortunes, and more pertinently, own plans in the category beyond 2020, leaves it vulnerable to both drivers seeking a competitive ride and foremost, long-term security.

    Should offers surface, both may be unwilling to bide their time gauging the success of the Japanese manufacturer’s collaboration with Toro Rosso, while an unlikely continuation with current supplier, Renault, may not fill either with much confidence despite the works outfit’s notable inroads.

    That Aston Martin has signed on as its title sponsor, creating a pathway to an eventual transition to manufacturer capacity if and when Red Bull pulls the plug, appearing significant on the surface, is academic. Ricciardo and Verstappen have been patient, though this has an inevitable threshold.

    It’s no secret that Mercedes and Ferrari are heavily courting Verstappen, the former having narrowly missed out on acquiring his services prior to his 2015 debut with Toro Rosso. At 20, time is on his side, yet the loyalty present from long-time Red Bull junior, Sebastian Vettel, isn’t applicable to the Dutchman, who was only recruited months prior to bursting onto the scene.

    Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull laughs during an interview with Formula One reporters.

    (Aron Suveg/Red Bull Content Pool)

    Ricciardo will be 29 once he becomes a free agent, and is entering the prime of his career, thus he won’t want to surrender his potential with an ambivalent employer regardless how it is performing. From a marketing perspective, the Australian is an attractive proposition, notwithstanding his esteemed racecraft.

    The accepted convention that Verstappen is marginally faster than Ricciardo could shape their respective futures, though it’s unlikely to ever reach a Vettel-Mark Webber dynamic – where the latter was an explicit second driver, culminating in several incidents which require no exposition.

    It’s been noted that the pair share a brotherly bond away from the track, while belying the reality that they’re not contending for the title. When this changes, the intimacy can be anticipated to cease. Whether this could occur as soon as next season is unknown, yet it’s unlikely to influence the final decision surrounding each’s next move.

    Team principal Christian Horner spoke of a desire to “retain both of our drivers, I would say until 2020.” The only prospect of this being realised is for the outfit to commit to the long-haul with a focus on excellence rather than what’s best for the Red Bull. Failing this, Carlos Sainz faces repatriation regardless which shape they’re in, for whichever duration it remains.