It’s become almost impossible to write about Formula 1 without the words “Red Bull”, “Ricciardo”, and “contract” needing to be mentioned. During the week those words took on a new meaning due to Red Bull and Honda signing an agreement to have Honda supply engines from 2019.
The question in the paddock, as Formula 1 heads to France for this weekend’s round at Circuit Paul Ricard, is how will this affect Ricciardo’s talk about potentially leaving Red Bull at season’s end? He’s made no secret of the fact that he wants a championship winning package and although mathematically it’s possible he could win this year, the performance of Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, and having to look over his shoulder to teammate Verstappen, are weighing heavily against him. As Ricciardo himself said: “ (I need) to get a car that can win the world title because I really believe I can.”
Ricciardo currently sits fourth in the drivers’ championship, with 84 points, two behind Bottas and thirty four ahead of Verstappen, and with Vettel and Hamilton, at 121 and 120 respectively in seemingly unassailable positions, it seems third is potentially his best hope.
Adding further fuel to the fire is a rumored twenty million dollar offer from a team that wasn’t really in the mix. Although Mercedes, Ferrari, and of course Red Bull are names bandied around, it was made known mid week that McLaren had put their hands into their pockets in a bid to attract the talented Western Australian.
Add to this the intrigue of Fernando Alonso. After racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours and winning for Toyota, the Spaniard has kept the door closed on confirming his direction after 2018. What is adding to his cache right now is his level of satisfaction about McLaren’s performance for this year’s, stating: “Last year by this point we had zero points, and this year we are seventh in the drivers’ championship and fifth in the constructors’ championship.” Alonso pointed out that part of his eventual decision process would be changes to the driver line ups in some of the top teams. This clearly appears to allude to Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes.
Circuit Paul Ricard lies east of France’s major southern city of Marseille. At a distance of 5.842 kilometres it’s one of the longest circuits in the F1 calendar. It’s also one of the higher speed tracks with three straights and one section with a slight kink to be almost a straight. Practice one starts at 12.00pm local time, Friday June 22. The race itself is at 14.10 UTC or 16.10 local time Sunday.