Daniel Ricciardo has had a very rough go of it in the last few seasons. After making the decision to leave Red Bull at the end of the 2018 season, the Australian driver has yet to replicate the success he had with the team. His reasoning for leaving Red Bull lied in the fact that he felt his teammate Max Verstappen was being given favored treatment by the team, and he did not want to race in a number two driver role. Whether he would have left the team is a conversation for another day, but the reality of the situation is that Ricciardo is most likely past his prime as a driver and has spent the last 4 years languishing in midfield teams picking up scraps. That is why I think Ricciardo should move to IndyCar.
Over the last decade IndyCar has been wrongfully labeled as a “dumping ground” for washed up F1 talent, but I see it as quite the opposite. Indy has allowed drivers who for whatever reason did not succeed in F1, despite obvious talent, to continue to race well into their 40s and net some really solid results while doing it.
Take a driver like Takuma Sato for example, Sato raced in f1 for six seasons between 2002 and 2008 across three different teams. During this time the Japanese driver only earned 44 points and one podium, funnily enough, that one podium came in Indianapolis. His aggressive driving style got him into more incidents than he was worth, so he didn’t stick with any team for long and by the end of the 2008 season he was out of a seat. Sato took 2009 off and signed with Indy team KV Racing Technology in 2010. He has stayed in IndyCar ever since and has really come into his own in the series. Sato has seen Victory lane six times in his IndyCar career including two Indy 500 wins.
Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson are also shining examples of what IndyCar can do for a former F1 drivers. Both drivers trundled around the back of the grid for years, after being toted as future Formula One stars, never really getting an opportunity to show what they could do. But they move to IndyCar and Ericsson is securing race wins, including an Indy 500 victory in 2022 and Grosjean was putting a perineal back marker Dale Coyne Racing team into podium places his first season in the series. Ricciardo is a better driver than any of those previously mentioned so just think of the results he could pull in the series.
Throughout his career, Ricciardo has been known for his late breaking style of overtaking and his bravery on track. This style of racing will work perfectly in IndyCar because of the increased durably of the chassis and the ability to race close to the other driver. Ricciardos aggressive but calculated style of overtaking will fit right into the series and make it must see racing as he eats his way up the grid. He may also benefit from the fact that IndyCar is a spec series, ever team races an identical chassis with their choice of engine, so it better highlights the driver’s raw talent rather than the quality of the machine under them.
Outside of his on track abilities, Ricciardo is a media darling and perfect for American audiences. His bright smile and infectious laughter has won over even the most serious Europeans, imagine what he could do in the much more laid back IndyCar paddock. Especially in recent years, IndyCar has done the best job out of all the major motorsports in highlighting each driver’s personalities and incorporating that into the lifeblood of the series. Drivers like Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin started their own talk show on Newgardens YouTube channel, and it is hilarious. Dalton Kellet and Pato O’Ward have been strong followings on social media like TikTok. IndyCar is much more of a fan centered series than I believe F1 is and putting Ricciardo in that environment will benefit both IndyCar and Ricciardo immensely.
There are a lot of things about this move that will benefit both parties. By moving to IndyCar, Ricciardo has a new lease on his career, the championship that he was always destined for but never saw in F1 may finally be his. This move may also allow him to be in contention for the next motorsport Triple Crown, having already won at Monaco, all he needs is an Indy 500 victory and a Le Mans victory and I believe those are both in reach for him if he moves on from F1 in the next year or so. Also, Ricciardo has always been very vocal about his love for the United States and its sport culture and this can be his opportunity to be a part of it himself.
In terms of benefit for IndyCar, Ricciardo will bring a diehard fan base with him to IndyCar, more so than any other driver that has made the move from F1 to the series. His charm and wit has garnered him millions of fans across the globe and a good portion of those eyes will start following Indy because of him. If Ricciardo is successful in the series, IndyCar can add another feather to their cap of F1 drivers they have turned around, and Ricciardo will be the biggest example in the modern era of IndyCar.
There are a few different paths Ricciardo can take to IndyCar. One option that most of the other F1 transplants took it to sign with a team down near the bottom of the grid for their first season like Grosjean did with Dale Coyne Racing and Ericsson did with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. Signing with a smaller team will allow Ricciardo to learn the car and the nuances of IndyCar, without the pressure of a big team like Chip Ganassi or Andretti bring.
In 2021 7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson made the move to IndyCar and signed with Chip Ganassi and had an abysmal first season compared to the other rookies. On the other side of the coin Scott McLaughlin signed with Team Penske in his first year outside of Supercars and was the highest finishing rookie in 2021. Granted, McLaughlin did race for a Penske affiliated team in supercars, so the relationship was already there, whereas Johnson had no professional relationship with Ginassi before making the move.
A unique aspect of IndyCar that Ricciardo will not be used to is the different types of tracks they race on between ovals, street circuits and road courses. I think Riccardo should take the same route Grosjean did in 2021 and sign on to race everything but ovals, so he can ease into the ludicrous speeds that the ovals require. This would be the best option for Ricciardo in my opinion because oval racing is something so foreign to him and to introduce that as well as a new car to learn in the same season is not only unwise, but also dangerous.
No matter what team Ricciardo ends up driver for in IndyCar, if he chooses that path, I have no doubt in my mind that he will be successful. The IndyCar paddock is a lot less stuffy than the F1 paddock, there will always be teammates and other drivers there to help him understand the car and get everything out of it. If he makes the move he will be next in a long line of stray F1 drivers that have found a home in IndyCar and I believe he may be the best of the bunch.
Daniel Ricciardo is only 32 years old and has been racing in F1 for over a decade. He is far past his days of being the hot young gun driver and he officially in the old guard on the grid. If he continues to bounce around the back end of the grid waiting for a seat to open up at a top team, I fear he will be too old to do anything spectacular when that opportunity finally comes. IndyCar is a grid of older drivers, Helio Castroneves is 47 years old and took home his fourth Indy 500 victory last year, and he isn’t the only one on the grid in his 40s still pulling results. A move to IndyCar wouldn’t just benefit Ricciardo, it would reinvigorate him. The Honey Badger we know and love isn’t dead yet, but Formula One is not going to be the place that brings him back.