Daniel Ricciardo has not ruled out taking a reserve driver role at Mercedes next year, but says a race drive with a Formula One team remains his priority.
Last month, Ricciardo agreed to cut his current McLaren contract one year short after it emerged the team had signed Oscar Piastri to replace him next year. He will leave McLaren at the end of the season and has not yet secured a deal for next year.
There are potential openings at Alpine, Haas and Williams for 2023, but Alpine has its sights set on Pierre Gasly assuming the Frenchman is released by AlphaTauri, which in turn is hoping to replace him with American driver Colton Herta. ESPN understands Ricciardo is waiting on a decision from Alpine before considering a reserve driver role.
However, if Ricciardo's options narrow down, one potential route back to a race drive could be a reserve role at a top team next year in the hope that a full race seat opens up in 2024. On Thursday, the Daily Mail reported that Mercedes is lining up Ricciardo for that exact reason, with only a single year left on Lewis Hamilton's contract at the end of this season.
"The truth is I'm keeping every option open, not just for next year, but for the future," Ricciardo said when asked about the link to Mercedes. "I still don't know what next year looks like.
"But I do want to be on the grid and I do want to race. I touched on it a few weeks ago that although this has been a challenging time in my career, it hasn't taken the love of the sport away from me and that desire to still be here and still compete.
"So obviously many talks or thoughts about next year and beyond that, but as I said, I'm still not sure what that looks like."
Hamilton, who was sat next to Ricciardo in the pre-Italian Grand Prix press conference at Monza, said the Australian should have his sights set on a race seat rather than a reserve role next year, adding that he currently has no plans to retire at the end of 2023.
"For years we have been going around and up and down with stories of retirement and stopping," he said. "But for me, I feel healthier than I've ever felt, as I focus a lot on that, and I feel fit. I love what I'm doing and I don't plan on stopping any time soon."
Turning to Ricciardo, he added: "Sorry buddy! I feel like I can race quite a bit longer, so I will be potentially steering towards that."
Hamilton said if he was Ricciardo's managed he would have lined up a deal by now.
"I think he should be racing, personally," he said. "I think he is far too talented and he deserves the right to be amongst us all racing. But of course, if he is a part of our team that would be great, but that role is not what really is best for him. If I was managing him, he'd be racing."