I've written on Quora about this topic extensively. Netflix's Drive to Survive has made Daniel Ricciardo a cult fan favorite for the rising audience in the US. So much so that Hulu has greenlit a reality show for him. Disney owns Hulu, so that has some weight regarding market capture and potential sponsorship. There is too much on the line in terms of eyeballs/dollars/loyal fans for Daniel to pull an Ocon or Albon and sit on the sidelines for a year or two. Liberty also cannot afford to take a step or two backward in terms of US market growth.
Daniel exploded on the scene as a replacement for Mark Webber as Sebastian Vettel's teammate, who managed to get the best of the 4-time champion. Sebastian left the following season for Ferrari, and Daniel became the team's lead driver. Then came Max. Despite Max being touted as the future of Red Bull Racing, Daniel beat him in total points over three years and finished higher than Max in 2 out of 3 seasons. The third saw Daniel with 8 DNFs to Max's 4 for poor reliability in the car. Poor reliability of the Red Bull car clouded the results on who was better. Daniel left for Renault the following season.
I still stand behind this decision as it was the best option, given the data available to Daniel at the time. As fans, we always have hindsight. These guys are staking their brands on the vision a team sells them. Daniel received the offer he wanted from Red Bull, but they favored Max. They also had two young hotshots in the background, Pierre Gasly, and Alex Albon, who wanted a seat at the big show. A team that favored Max and its junior drivers would have been an inefficient distraction to him for the remainder of the deal. Those two got what they wanted when Daniel departed, and both suffered greatly in terms of their career momentum. The RBR didn't necessarily suit them, and they couldn't keep up with Max despite their talent. Where have we heard that more recently at McLaren? Daniel was sold a box of rocks in Renault's ambitions or capabilities for wins by Cyril, but this gave Daniel time with a team that stood in his corner and allowed him to be #1. Daniel grew in these two seasons as a driver. He beat both of his teammates as expected. In 2021, Daniel made the much-hyped move to McLaren. Why no one discussed the car's drivability with Daniel is beyond me, but Lando has gotten the best of him in both seasons. It was reported that Carlos Sainz told Daniel after he signed with McLaren, "Their (McLaren) is very difficult to drive ."To which Daniel replied, "thanks for telling me now, mate!"
18 Months of McLaren
While Daniel has delivered the team's only win since 2012, it hasn't been enough. A car suited for drivers that prefer understeer is not a car that Daniel shines in. We've heard this about Daniel for a long time. Was Zak just that star-struck to sign him? In 2022, Daniel has come under fire from McLaren's CEO Zak Brown, who mentions mechanisms in the contract for Daniel to leave the team. Of course, these are all on Daniel's side. He must want to go. How do you get him out? Trash him in the media and scapegoat him! News of young gun Oscar Piastri signing on as McLaren's reserve driver till they can get him out is beginning to bring 2023 in doubt. Could McLaren make the same Mistake Red Bull did by pulling in a driver too early against a strong driver like Lando?
The news came to light over the summer break that McLaren and Daniel will part ways at the end of the 2022 season, a year earlier than intended. Is this bad? Yes, and no.
It's not like Daniel had a car he loved and was contending for titles; he gave everything to figure the car out. McLaren was also taking resources to get the car to suit him. It was getting bad for both, and nobody wanted that. If Daniel or McLaren could have figured the car out, this wouldn't be happening. It was brand destruction for both to continue. I want the DR3 of Red Bull or even Renault at this point! He's good for the sport. Why do you think fans have taken to Twitter lighting their McLaren gear on fire? #f1twt
Formula One and Sponsorships are all about money and commercialization! Daniel pulls some serious weight in terms of value to Formula One in the US. He is also a huge brand outside of the US, but the US is the newest and most fragile market to the sport. McLaren has brought in a ton of sponsors on the back of Daniel Ricciardo's fame in the US. When Formula One does media in the US, it's always Lewis and Daniel. Daniel's always on late-night talk shows; new fans I run into are huge fans of his. Even my daughter was a fan of his fried chicken videos over the summer break!
To me, the McLaren/Ricciardo situation has two problems. New fans don't understand that F1 is a constructors sport. Meaning it's more of the car than the driver, and they are benchmarked against their teammates. Formula One getting rid of Daniel would be like the NBA sending Lebron packing, the PGA sending Tiger packing, or the NFL sending Tom Brady packing in their primes. Fans + Eyeballs + Advertising/Sponsorship/ticket sales = Huge sums of revenue at risk.
Alpine has come to the table in light of #PiastriGate, and Daniel is welcome back to the team for 2023. I don't see this as the best option. But only if a couple of unknowns are currently taking place, I sense happening. Otherwise, Alonso looks to have a strong & stable car that needs a pilot next year.
Enter Alfa Romeo
In my career, I've been able to see things dynamically. How do all the working parts come together and create outcomes? Ever hear, "Where there is smoke, there is fire ."Since all this news broke out, I've been tinkering with this in my head. I hope Daniel's people are doing the same. If not, call me Daniel; your performance coach has my number. As Viper affirmed Maverick in Top Gun. "If you don't get your rear, give me a call… I'll fly with you".
Why Alfa Romeo, you ask? This poses the same brand identity conundrum you are witnessing play out at Aston Martin. I've been saying for a long time that Alonso should be at Aston Martin with Sebastian or in his place. I was correct in my assumptions! Alonso's negotiation with Lawrence Stroll took as long as it would have if I were in his position...ten minutes.
Audi is also a premium racing brand and manufacturer and just announced it would be entering the sport in 2026 as an engine manufacturer. They also stated that an announcement would be made later this year as to their plans for a team. At the same time, Alfa Romeo announced it would leave Sauber at the end of the 2023 season. Remember all the smoke & fire thing?
Bottas is fast but not as marketable as Daniel by miles. Zhou? In China, sure, but has he set the world on fire like Norris, Russell, and Leclerc by beating Valterri? Nope. Sauber's camp has also stated all the sponsors beating their doors down hype never played out from Zhou's signing. Show me the money!
If I were the CEO of Audi, I would personally be on the phone with Daniel & CAA discussing a move for 2023 on a long-term deal that would see him into the Audi transition. There is brand synergy with Audi/Daniel. Daniel would also benefit from this call as he would have the backing of a CEO, a 2023 salary from McLaren, and a 2023 & beyond salary with Audi! I would welcome him with open arms and vehemently defend him as a marketable driver. He's valuable, and… let us not forget he dethroned Vettel and beat Max in a solid car built for him. Daniel would have to get around the transition from Alfa to Audi as it would take two years to arrive at a full works team for 2026.
Should my guess not happen, Alpine is the best seat with no options at Ferrari, Mercedes, or McLaren. Haas & Williams are too much a risk for the DR3 brand. Formula One Management should work diligently with teams as they did with Fernando Alonso to keep him in the sport.
The only other smoke I see is HERE.
I hope we see this on Daniel's Instagram feed soon...eating fried chicken!