Daniel Ricciardo’s future is holding up the 2019 grid formation.
Daniel Ricciardo’s future is holding up the 2019 grid formation.

Mercedes’ cold Ricciardo rebuff

MERCEDES has sparked further intrigue into Daniel Ricciardo's future with executive director Toto Wolff declaring the reigning champions are not looking at the Red Bull star.

Despite widespread reports Mercedes is in the hunt to sign Ricciardo away from the energy drink team at the end of the 2018 Formula 1 season, the Mercedes boss says the team plans on making no changes to its 2019 driver line-up.

Mercedes have two open cars for next year with both champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas yet to re-sign beyond the 2018 season.

While Hamilton and Mercedes are reportedly very close to announcing a new deal, the team has been linked with making a play for Ricciardo with their second seat.

Ricciardo last week said he would relish the challenge of having Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is off contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and has expressed an interest in changing teams so he can challenge for the Formula 1 championship. That would likely mean a switch to either Mercedes or Ferrari.

The Red Bulls are still in the doghouse.
The Red Bulls are still in the doghouse.

"I'd love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there," the Australian said.

"I don't want to say it's just Lewis I'm looking for but that would be a good challenge."

Despite the flood of reports linking Ricciardo and Mercedes, Wolff on Tuesday moved to distance his team from the 28-year-old Perth product.

He even said reserve driver Esteban Ocon, who is on loan at Force India, remains in their plans for next season.

"We are not looking at drivers outside of Mercedes at the moment because, first of all, we need to give our support to our two guys, that's the priority," Wolff said.

"It's like if you're happy with your wife, you don't look elsewhere! We are [happy] with our two wives - or three [including Ocon] - and we are not looking at that.

"Give us a few more races, [let us] start the European season properly, go to Canada, and then the intense July, and I will have a better view."

Mercedes' cold reaction to Ricciardo's uncertain future suggests rivals Ferrari may have done enough to convince Ricciardo to make the move to the Scuderia team.

That move would force out 38-year-old Kimi Rikkonenn, who is also off-contract this season.

Raikkonen has previously denied reports he could be forced to retire at the end of this year.

"It's been the same story every year since I can remember, maybe 15 years, every year I'm out," Raikkonen said.

"I'll do my stuff on my side. I enjoy the racing, that's the only reason I'm here. The rest, we'll see how it plays out.

Daniel Ricciardo is in a pickle.
Daniel Ricciardo is in a pickle.

"In the team we know what we want to do and if all those things fit together with all our feeling we'll see what happens."

Ricciardo's decision is made more difficult by his victory at the Chinese Grand Prix and the ongoing power struggle between Mercedes and Ferrari.

Ricciardo has always maintained he wants to drive for whichever team gives him the best chance of winning a world championship - if it looks like Red Bull isn't up to the challenge.

A subdued Hamilton admitted last week he had been lucky to take the drivers' championship lead with his opportunistic victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

There were no whoops of delight and no celebrations following his first win in seven races dating back to last October, but a serious realisation that he and his Mercedes team have their work cut out to stay on top.

He knows he was hardly the leading man and that his car was unable to match the Ferraris in an unpredictable contest that maintained the craziness of the season to date.

Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen?
Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen?

"That was just a brutal race and it was probably exactly what the fans want to see at a Grand Prix," Wolff said in Baku.

"It was twists and turns at every point."

As the teams packed up to return to Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix next month, it was clear to Hamilton and Wolff that they need to find an upgrade for their car that makes the tyres work faster.

"We've got a lot of work to do, definitely," said Hamilton.

"We are still behind. Today I was lucky. I struggled all weekend and I am struggling to find the car's potential. Their pure pace is ahead of ours at the moment.

"There were a lot of faults in the race, which is rare for me. I struggled with the car, struggled with the tyres.

"I've definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there's not a repeat performance-wise of this weekend."

"The biggest issue is the tyres," he added.

"I don't believe their car is much better than ours, if at all, it's just that they are using their tyres better."

- with AFP, AP

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