The grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on F1 hits home just that bit more with every passing day.
On Thursday, F1 dropped the sobering news that the jewel in its crown, the Monaco Grand Prix, will not take place for the first time since 1955.
Furthermore, the Spanish and Dutch Grands Prix were postponed, making the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 7 a best-case scenario for the start of the season.
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For F1 fanatics, that’s all devastating, yet predictable news given the rapid and seismic changes coronavirus has forced on world sport.
Buried in those bombshell announcements is another that could be the worst of all for Daniel Ricciardo’s career.
The Australian has reached a crossroads sooner than expected after F1 announced that its unprecedented rules shake-up for 2021 will be pushed back another year.
After a conference-call between F1 chiefs, it was decided teams will no longer be forced to completely overhaul their chassis next year under new game-changing restrictions. Meanwhile, the current spec of power units remain, as originally planned.
The introduction of the sport’s first-ever salary cap will go ahead.
Nonetheless, the path has been paved for Mercedes and, to a lesser extent, Red Bull and Ferrari to extend their dominance over the sport through to 2022.
Ricciardo’s Renault had flagged 2021 as its first realistic opportunity to compete at the top-end on the assumption that F1’s slate would have been wiped clean.
Now that it won’t be, Ricciardo has two options: Compete in the midfield at Renault for a third year, or leave.
The Australian, who turns 31 July, is off-contract at the end of this year and is expected to garner interest from the big three who are far from finalising their driver line-ups next year.
Outside of Max Verstappen’s deal at Red Bull and Charles Leclerc’s at Ferrari, no other driver contracts for 2021 have been handed out by the heavyweight trio.
If not already, those vacant seats will look mighty appealing to Ricciardo who didn’t have a third year of midtable running in his plans when he signed on in France at the end of 2018.
As an experienced driver widely regarded as one of the best racers in the field, poaching Ricciardo is an intriguing proposition for Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes as he approaches the end of his contract.
Whether or not they are willing to compete with the $49 million-a-year at Renault he’s reportedly been earning, however, will likely become the deciding factor.
As will negotiations with their off contract drivers, namely Alexander Albon (Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) whose futures at their current employers are all uncertain.