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Daniel Ricciardo’s Next Move and Other Top Formula One Story Lines

Felipe Massa chats with SI about what fans should keep an eye on heading into the final nine races of the season.
Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Belgian Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

After Formula One drivers spent the last few weeks bopping around different parts of the globe to recharge, summer break has come to an end.

Williams’s Alex Albon embraced WAG life and “banana duties” as his girlfriend, Lily Muni He, competed in a golf tournament before their road trip, and Lando Norris made a guest appearance as Kygo’s “ghost pianist.”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc graced the cover of GQ’s ‘Hype’ issue alongside Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz while Sir Lewis Hamilton, who spent two weeks traveling through Namibia, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, opened up about racism and his future in a Vanity Fair cover profile.

Meanwhile, at least one driver couldn’t stay away from his competitive side. Valtteri Bottas took part in gravel cycling races, finishing fourth out of 700-plus riders in one competition.

But, alas, the two-week summer shutdown timer has expired, and now, the Formula One paddock is headed to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen appears poised to snag his second world championship, while Hamilton is at risk of breaking his record of winning a race in each season of his F1 career. Meanwhile, many are wondering where Daniel Ricciardo will be racing next season after he and McLaren “mutually agreed” to split.

But before it’s time for the beloved “it’s lights out and away we go,” Sports Illustrated spoke with Felipe Massa, who competed in F1 for 15 seasons and finished as the championship runner up in 2008 by a single point, about five story lines fans should keep an eye on as we head into the final nine races of the season.

Alpine and McLaren’s situation amid silly season

Silly season dominated the headlines leading up to the summer shutdown, and two teams in particular found themselves at the center of the storm—Alpine and McLaren.

Let’s recap.

Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel announced he will retire at the end of the 2022 season. Aston Martin confirmed after the race weekend that Fernando Alonso would fill the vacancy and race for them in 2023, which leaves an open seat at Alpine. The twist on this move: Team boss Otmar Szafnauer said the “first confirmation” he received of Alonso’s move was through Aston Martin’s press release.

Although Massa, who was teammates with Alonso, says the move was “pretty strange,” this was “a typical Fernando way of doing things.” Alonso went from Renault early in his career to spend a single season with McLaren before returning to Renault. He then took the leap to Ferrari for several campaigns before returning to McLaren. Alonso took a brief hiatus in 2019 and ’20 before returning to Alpine (formerly known as Renault) in ’21.

“Maybe, for whatever reason, he knows something more than what we do, that maybe Aston Martin is the right thing to go or not. Really difficult to say that.”

Fernando Alonso ahead of Belgian Grand Prix weekend

Fernando Alonso ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

A day later, Alpine announced Oscar Piastri would be a part of the 2023 lineup alongside Esteban Ocon; however, the 21-year-old refuted the claim, going as far as to tweet, in part, “I will not be driving for Alpine next year.” There had been rumors that Piastri had been in talks with McLaren. In the eyes of Massa, Piastri is someone who “deserves to be in Formula One.”

By the end of the week, it became widely reported that McLaren informed Ricciardo that it intended to replace the eight-time race winner with Piastri next season. According to ESPN, team principal Andreas Seidl told Ricciardo about the Woking-based team’s intention after the Hungarian Grand Prix. McLaren and Ricciardo announced they “mutually agreed” for him to leave the team at the end of the 2022 season, and there are reportedly no clauses that would prevent him from racing with certain teams.

A reminder for F1 fans—Alpine and McLaren are competing for fourth place in the constructor standings with just four points separating the rivals.

What about the rest of the driver market?

And those aren’t the only contracts in limbo.

Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Haas and Williams all have vacancies left to confirm or fill with Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi’s contracts being up at the end of the season.

Zhou, the lone rookie on the grid, has recorded five DNFs in 13 races this season, but he has largely finished within the top 15, including 10th in Bahrain and eighth in Montreal. Meanwhile, AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost commented on Tsunoda’s future with the team ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, stating, “If he continues like he did during the season, apart from crashing, I think that he has a good chance to stay with us. It depends on him.” Tsunoda has tallied 11 points so far this season with three top-10 finishes—Bahrain (8), Imola (7) and Spain (10).

As for Schumacher, the 2022 campaign has taken a positive turn after a difficult start that included missing the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and recording two DNFs in Monaco and Montreal (the latter for engine troubles). The 23-year-old soon quickly turned things around, scoring his first F1 points at Silverstone with an eighth-place finish and following it up with sixth place at Austria.

As for Williams Racing, news broke on Aug. 3 that Alex Albon signed a multi-year extension with the team, but it is still unknown what will happen with his teammate, Latifi. Questions started arising about his status throughout the first half of the season as he became the only driver to not score points by the summer break. Piastri’s name had previously been linked in conversations about that seat, but it seems that door may be closed.

At this point, what the 2023 Formula One grid will look like is anyone’s guess, and as the championship battles continue, buckle up—silly season is just getting started.

Carlos Sainz Ferrari and Charles Leclerc Ferrari on the Spa Francorchamps race track in the run up to the Belgian Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz Ferrari and Charles Leclerc ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

The state of Ferrari, Red Bull and the championship races

Eighty points.

That is the gap between leader Verstappen and second-place Leclerc, who had a stronghold on the driver championship earlier this season. But with reliability issues, questionable Ferrari strategy calls and mistakes of his own at Imola and Paul Ricard, Leclerc’s title push has slowed down of late. And now, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez sits just five points behind him in the standings.

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said after the Hungarian Grand Prix that no changes would be made during the summer break, adding, “It's not a matter of bad luck, and there is nothing to change as well. It's always a matter of continuous learning and building, building experience, building skills. Certainly there is something that you need to look at [from the race] and understand why. But if I look again at the balance of the first half of the season, there is no reason why we should change.

“I think we simply need to address what was wrong today, we need to understand, and then to address and get back competitive at the 12 races so far and the reason why it could not be the case at the next one.”

There have been calls for changes to the Prancing Horse after the latest strategy mishap and lack of pace at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and some have gone as far as calling to get rid of Binotto.

A perfect balance is key to success, Massa says, and Ferrari hasn’t had that this year. “Many races, they throw away points because of the reliability. Some other races they throw away points because of the strategies, some other races they throw points because of the drivers’ mistake. So for me, Charles is doing an amazing job really, really an amazing job, but he also had a few mistakes as well,” the former Ferrari driver says. “But I think the most important thing for Ferrari is that they have a competitive car. It’s so difficult to have a competitive car.”

So is firing Binotto the best course of action with nine races to go? Although the problems are taking longer to fix, Massa feels that might be best. “I think it's better to work to fix the problems before you take, maybe, the wrong action,” he says.

One lingering question Ferrari faces is whether team orders will be used in the final nine races. Massa doesn’t think there is a reason for that with the championship almost being over, but with a 97-point gap between the Prancing Horse and Red Bull, the Scuderia’s race director Laurent Mekies told Ferrari could use team orders if it helps the team.

“We target to have the best result for the team; Ferrari comes first,” Mekies told “And then of course there will be a point where we will need to focus more on a driver compared to the other one if the championship position is requiring. So, it does not mean waiting for the mathematical difference but it means being at the point of the season where you think it is the right thing to do so.”

But all eyes are bound to be on Red Bull for the remainder of the season. “If Red Bull doesn’t win the championship, then it will be a big problem for them because they have everything in their hands,” Massa says.

Is Mercedes back?

While the duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell scored double podiums at France and Hungary leading into summer break, Hamilton himself said that the Silver Arrows are “closing the gap” on Ferrari and Red Bull.

But, Mercedes isn’t done with its upgrades quite yet.

Strategy director James Vowles was asked in the team’s French Grand Prix debrief video about whether the upgrades at Paul Ricard made a difference. He responded, “In terms of the upgrades themselves, yes, they are incremental steps, they’re small steps that we’re adding to the car, but the important point is that we have plans to introduce far, far more across the races that follow.

“We’re not going to be able in one go to just catch up and be with Ferrari and Red Bull. But hopefully as you’ve seen across the season so far, we are incrementally closing that gap down and we have more to come.”

There are just 30 points between second-place Ferrari and Mercedes, and Russell is two points ahead of Sainz in the championship standings, resting in fourth. He’s finished in the top five for every race except for a DNF at Silverstone. In Massa’s view, the rising star is “working perfectly with the pressure and really shows he's talented straightaway.”

Hamilton, meanwhile, is 10 behind Sainz, and, given his five straight podium finishes before summer break, he could catch the Spaniard as soon as this weekend. Though Hamilton didn’t have the best start to the season, Massa says, “Lewis also improved a lot. … I think they have a perfect combination at driver in my view.”

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ahead of Belgian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ahead of F1 Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

There’s also a twist coming to the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix—a new technical directive to crackdown on porpoising. Part of the directive limits using flexi-floors, something Red Bull and Ferrari are rumored to be “exploiting,” per Sky Sports.

Mercedes had been largely off-pace at the beginning of the season, and, while the Silver Arrows had yet to call out their rivals by name, Russell said to Sky, “There is no doubt that Ferrari and Red Bull have pushed the regulations in that regard, and we've respected it as the regulation was intended.” It’s unknown whether this change in regulation will impact the two title contenders’ performance, given that each car is different.

Regardless, Massa says the Silver Arrows aren’t quite back, but “show that they understand that maybe sometimes you have a difficult car. But when you have a team that works at the perfect level, they understand and they are able to change things quicker.” He later adds, “Mercedes will keep improving in my view, but they know what to do for next year.”

The dark horses that should be on your radar

As Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull dominate the headlines and a three-way battle to the finish brews, there are a few names that have largely flown under the radar on the track.

Haas F1’s Schumacher is one to keep an eye on despite previously being more of a back-of-the-grid competitor. Finding points is key, but with his future being in limbo, can he continue to find the consistency out of summer break?

Massa says he was glad to see Schumacher string together a couple of good wins, and thinks that will put him in a good position for the final stretch. “His second part of the season will be very, very important for his future as a driver. If he keeps doing what he did in the last maybe three, four races, [he] definitely has a good possibility to stay on the consistent way as the Formula One driver.”

As for Williams, Albon returned to the F1 grid this campaign to fill the seat vacated by Russell when he departed for Mercedes. Following the 2020 season, Red Bull released Albon from his contract, but he was retained as a reserve and test driver, which was a critical move. The 26-year-old has tallied all of Williams’s points so far this season thanks to several standout performances, such as navigating his way from P20 to 10th in Australia and a ninth-place finish at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix. Since Miami, however, Albon has finished outside of the points range, the closest being P12 in Azerbaijan and Austria.

McLaren’s Lando Norris has been fairly consistent this season, regularly bringing home points for the Woking team aside from three races (one of which his day ended with a wreck). He managed to score 76 of the team’s 95 points going into summer break and snagged a podium at Imola, besting both Ferrari and Mercedes drivers. Comparatively, teammate Ricciardo has struggled with the car, but Norris does not feel the MCL36 was necessarily built around the young Brit.

Instead, he’s had to adapt his driving style. “From what I want from the car, it's like the opposite of what it’s giving me at the minute!” Norris said to “And yeah, I would say the car I have now is completely not what I want for my driving style, and very unsuited for me. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that’s what it is, and you have to adapt to it. That’s why I feel like I’ve done a reasonable job this year, adapting to something that is not quite what I want or like.”

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