MELBOURNE, Australia -- Just three months into his first year away from the Formula One grid, Daniel Ricciardo is already eyeing a return to a race drive next season.
When McLaren decided Oscar Piastri would replace Ricciardo at the end of the 2022 season, the 33-year-old Australian was left with few options to remain in F1 in 2023.
Instead of moving to a team toward the back of the grid, Ricciardo opted to take a third driver role with Red Bull, which will see him attend occasional races, drive this year's car at tyre tests and complete simulator work at the team's factory. It has also presented him with more free time than he has had since he started his F1 career in 2011.
His first year away from the F1 grid is only three months old, but he already feels like he wants to pursue a return next year.
"The signs are pointing towards getting back on the grid," he told a small group of reporters at a Red Bull partner event with Yeti. "I feel like that's where I'm tracking in my head and a few of the habits that I'm having or doing is pointing towards that.
"It's only been a few months [out of F1] but I think some itches have been scratched, so to speak. I've actually weirdly found that the days that I've had no schedule are the days when I've actually done training, and I've done things like I would before.
"So I don't know, being my own boss, writing my own schedule has actually brought out a lot of the things in me, when I thought I might just sit on the couch and watch movies all day and eat junk food, I'm just not. That's not me.
"So even these things have made me realise how much I do care about it."
If Ricciardo does return for 2024, his options already look limited, with top teams such as Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin all likely to stick with the driver lineups they have.
Of the drivers at those teams, the only one with a contract set to expire at the end of this season is Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, but the seven-time champion has already talked about extending his deal into the future.
When it became clear Ricciardo would leave McLaren last year, there were still available seats at smaller teams such as Williams and Haas but he opted against approaching them about a drive.
He says he would still only want to return to F1 if it was with a top team.
"I still am at a point where it's not at any cost, it's not just to be back on the grid," Ricciardo added. "A lot of the reason for taking this year off was that I didn't want to just jump back into a car, any car just to be one of the F1 drivers. And I still don't see myself starting from scratch and rebuilding a career from ground zero and going at it for another decade.
"I appreciate I might not have every opportunity under the sun, but I want to win. I want to be back with a with a top team and obviously a team where I have my confidence back and my mojo.
"I think also that's where, maybe when I look back that's a weakness of mine, but in a way it's a strength as I feel better at the front of the grid. I feel like I perform in those situations with a bit more pressure and a bit more emphasis on a podium.
"So to go back and try to put myself in just any seat or something that's fighting at best for a top-10 finish, I don't think that's going to bring the best out of me. So yeah, I see myself, at least in my head, wanting to go back on the grid, but there's still some terms and conditions, so to speak."
Ricciardo said he hasn't yet approached teams about a 2024 race drive and will wait until the summer before his search begins in earnest. He hopes the right opportunity will present itself.
"I'm also trying not to have too much of a plan. At some point, I will need to a proper plan but it's still a bit early and I still want things to happen kind of organically.
"As I touched on, even with the sim or the training I haven't said I'm going to wake up on Monday and do a training session, it's just that I've woken up and had the urge to do it.
"So I still want everything to come from a real natural place, not a forced place. And I think that's going to give me my clearest answer.
"I'm happy to roll with it probably 'til the summer, or June, July and then see where I'm at, and then maybe sit down with my team and think what are we going to need to do now to realistically try to put me back on the grid.
"But I'm really happy with how I'm going about it for now. So I'm not going to do too much more."