The Australian was riding on a crest of a wave and had just won the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix with a broken Red Bull car that looked destined to give up the ghost early in the race earning him a slice of a redemption after suffering a heart breaking defeat on the street of the principality two years prior.
Fast forward four years, and those days look long gone, as not only is Ricciardo on his way out of McLaren at the end of the year but out of Formula 1 altogether after electing to take a sabbatical in 2023, in the hope that he would be able to return to the F1 grid in 2024.
But in a cutthroat sport where seats are tough to find, will Ricciardo ever race in Formula 1 again, and if not, what should he do next?
Formula 1 reserve driver
When a reunion with Alpine was ruled out, Ricciardo decided to change tack and started looking for a reserve driver role visiting the Mercedes motorhome during the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix weekend.
The reasoning behind his decision to spend a season watching from a team’s garage was to stay close to the sport during his year off in preparation for his comeback in 2024.
But some, like 2009 world champion and Sky Sports F1 pundit Jenson Button have questioned the usefulness of becoming a third driver at his age.
“I don’t know what he would get out of being a third driver,” Button said. ”He’s not a young driver, so he can’t drive the car next year at race weekends (free practice); it has to be a young driver. So he wouldn’t really get anything out of it.”
Button has a point. Ricciardo would get barely, or if any, time behind the wheel as a third driver, and there wouldn’t be a guarantee of a seat at a big team falling back into this lap after a year on the bench.
Plus, with Ricciardo turning 35 in 2024 and the average age of the modern-day Grand Prix driver getting younger, there is a severe risk that the Australian will become yesterday’s man rather than the comeback kid.
It wouldn’t be the first time that an F1 driver has jumped ship to sportscars following the end of their Grand Prix career.
Drivers like Button, Michele Alboreto, Derek Bell and Ricciardo’s countryman Mark Webber all made the switch with varying degrees of success and Ricciardo could join the club at a time when sports car racing is booming.
With manufacturers queuing up to join the Hypercar and IMSA classes Ricciardo might like the idea of racing and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours. He might also like the idea of racing in a series with a much smaller calendar giving him time to focus on his business interests and a Formula 1 comeback.
Although he has no endurance racing experience Ricciardo would settle in pretty quickly and he may be attracted by the allure of adding another section of motorsport’s triple crown to his trophy cabinet.
Whilst for car manufacturers Ricciardo’s image as a flamboyant showman would not only attract eyeballs to the sportscar programme but also to it’s latest roadcars where he will surely be the poster boy of any advertising campaign making it sportingly and commercially a win-win situation for both parties.
Return to Australia
A move back home may be a tough pill to swallow at first, but a switch to the V8 Supercars championship might be the tonic Ricciardo needs to regain his winning streak.
Better yet he would also be entering a championship that is packed with quality drivers such as Will Davidson, Chaz Mostart and Shane Van Gisburgern and driving the new much lauded generation three supercars.
Then theirs the possibility of competing in the series showpiece event the Bathurst 1000 held at the mighty Mount Panorama Circuit.
Even though Ricciardo would want to win it as the lead driver having a crack at the mountain as a co-driver wouldn’t be an unattractive option as he could juggle his life in Europe before heading back home to begin a vigorous testing programme that prepares him for the challenge of the mountain.
He wouldn’t be the first ex-Australian Formula 1 driver to have a go at V8 Supercars long after their stint in Europe comes to an end either.
The 1980 F1 World champion Alan Jones competed in 19 Bathurst 1000s after retiring from Formula 1 in 1981 achieving a best finish of second in 1995 behind another ex-Grand Prix driver Larry Perkins.
Move into television and fashion
Even if Ricciardo does secure a drive of some sort, there’s no stopping him doing some television work on the side after all most Formula 1 reserve drivers are spotted holding a microphone when they’re not being called up to drive.
Better yet Ricciardo has the charisma and the knowledge to make viewers laugh but also feel well informed and that made lead into another television role where he hosts a non-Formula 1 related programme.
If Ricciardo elects to snub the world of television for the time being he could spend more time growing his business empire which includes his own fashion range and a stake in the West Coast Brewery that he owns alongside Button and professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell.
In recent years Formula 1 drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have branched out into the business world and its hard to imagine that Ricciardo wouldn’t use this free time to follow his former colleagues footsteps in making their businesses bigger and more accessible.