It has been an underwhelming 2022 season so far for Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian Formula 1 driver has only earned points on one occasion this year, finishing sixth at his home Grand Prix in Melbourne. His other results this season have been 14th, 18th, 13th, and 12th, as well as failing to finish in Saudia Arabia.
A memorable Grand Prix victory at Monza last year was proof he still has the ability to win races, but his consistent struggles to match the pace of teammate Lando Norris has become a major concern.
Naturally, speculation has begun regarding a potential exit for Ricciardo, despite the 32-year-old being on a contract that lasts until 2023 with an option to extend.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown explained on the F1 Nation podcast that negotiations will take place later this year. However, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl told The Age that he expects Ricciardo to bounce back in due course.
With his future in the air, The Sporting News takes a look at the potential candidates to replace Daniel Ricciardo.
Currently driving for Arrow McLaren SP in the United States-based IndyCar Series, Pato O’Ward is already an accomplished driver, despite being 23-years-old.
He narrowly missed out on the 2021 IndyCar title and was named the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2020, working his way through motorsport ranks since his Formula Renault debut in 2013.
The Mexican also tested the MCL35M in Abu Dhabi last year, and appears to be viewed as a strong candidate should a seat at McLaren become available.
If McLaren opts for a ‘quick-fix’ (potentially at the end of this season), O’Ward would be able to fill those shoes competently.
A rising star for Andretti Autosport, Colton Herta is another IndyCar driver often brought up in replacement discussions.
He is set to be involved in testing for McLaren’s F1 car this year as a development driver and has been cited by CEO Zak Brown as a future option for the team.
A driver from the United States, his potential commercial appeal also cannot be ignored, with F1 enjoying rapid growth and expansion in the country.
If Herta does secure a seat, he would be the first American since Alexander Rossi in 2015 to drive in F1.
If McLaren is looking at their long-term future, bringing 15-year-old racing prodigy Ugo Ugochukwu into F1 could be an exciting, but risky, option.
Ugochukwu is young. Very young. But some big names in F1 made their debut as a teenager, notably reigning world champion Max Verstappen, who first drove for Red Bull as a 17-year-old.
McLaren signed the young American to a long-term driver contract last year, which sees the UK-based team support him during his development, along with having options to lock him down later in his career. He is currently racing in the F4 British Championship.
If McLaren is willing to be patient and hold on to Daniel Ricciardo for the foreseeable future, Ugochukwu could be an ideal driver to develop and integrate into the team a few years down the line, similar to Lando Norris.
Oscar Piastri missed out on an F1 seat for 2022, despite winning the F2 and F3 championships in the two seasons prior.
Instead, Guanyu Zhou – who came third in F2 behind Piastri – was the only rookie handed a seat this season, with Alfa Romeo seemingly prioritising the Chinese driver’s commercial pull.
The 21-year-old Australian is currently Alpine’s reserve driver and may find himself a seat with the French team if Fernando Alonso retires at the end of 2022.
A promotion at Alpine appears the most likely entry into F1 for Piastri, but an Australian driver swap at McLaren isn’t out of the question. McLaren trusted Norris as a rookie and could put the same faith into Piastri.
There haven’t been any substantial discussions around a switch to McLaren for Pierre Gasly, but it would be a safe move that makes a lot of sense. The Frenchman has consistently overperformed for Alpha Tauri since he was dramatically dropped by Red Bull in 2019.
Gasly’s current contract runs until the end of 2023, with Red Bull likely to lose the 26-year-old from their driver fold if he is not offered a promotion.
With both Ricciardo and Gasly’s contracts finishing in the same season, there is at least a solid chance that negotiations are held between the French driver and McLaren.
His consistency and race experience would certainly make him a suitable candidate to partner with Lando Norris.