Mercedes’ Ricciardo contract backflip
MERCEDES boss Toto Wolff says his team is open to making a play for Red Bull star Daniel Ricciardo at the end of the 2018 season.
It comes just one week after the Austrian executive director was quoted declaring his team was not looking at the Australian racer.
A Formula 1 magazine quoted Wolff as saying Mercedes was not planning to make any changes to its driver line-up for 2019 - despite both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas coming off contract at the end of this year.
The report claimed Mercedes was "not looking at drivers outside of Mercedes at the moment" out of loyalty to its squad of drivers.
On Wednesday, however, Wolff declared he was misrepresented in the report, insisting his team would consider Ricciardo for one of the team's open seats.
The Express labelled Wolff's backflip a "bombshell".
"I was not translated correctly," Wolff told Auto Bild during testing in Barcelona.
"I only said that we are loyal first of all to our drivers. They are Lewis, Valtteri and the Mercedes young drivers. They come first.
"If we were to look at others, Daniel is definitely among them."
Reigning champion Hamilton is expected to re-sign with Mercedes in coming weeks, finally ending the stand-off that has lasted since October last year.
Bottas is also out of contract this year, opening the door for Ricciardo to move to Formula 1's most dominant team.
Despite Wolff's shy comments surrounding Ricciardo's uncertain future, Mercedes and rival Ferrari have both been linked with expressing interest in recruiting the 28-year-old away from Red Bull.
Mercedes' first priority is re-signing Hamilton.
"Obviously we don't want to lose him and I don't think he wants to go anywhere else. Everything's going fine," Wolff said, according to The Express.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't be racing with each other for a few more years. We had other priorities in the last few weeks.
"We weren't happy with our cars' performance and we needed to sort it out.
"And finalising a contract is something you need to involve yourself in and spend time and we both decided that we'd park it for a minute where we were.
"But it's almost all sorted and we'll pick it up at the right time."
Last week, Ricciardo said he would relish the challenge of having Hamilton at Mercedes next year.
Ricciardo is out of 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.
"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."
Ricciardo already has a challenge in the Red Bull garage with teammate Max Verstappen.
Verstappen set the pace for Red Bull on an opening day of impressive long-running by F1's teams at the Barcelona test on Wednesday (AEST).
It was the first time since the end of winter testing in early March that teams had a chance to test their cars on track away from a race weekend, with just three more such days to follow this year.
Fresh from his first podium finish of 2018 at last weekend's Spanish GP, Verstappen clocked the fastest day-one time with a late-day lap of 1:17.528 as the RB14 racked up 148 laps.
Although the Dutchman used the quickest F1 tyre compound, the hyper-soft, lap times were still more than a second slower than Lewis Hamilton's pole position from last Saturday as teams worked to understand tyres, evaluate development parts and, in some cases, test rookie drivers.
"Today was about gaining even more understanding of the car and tyres," Verstappen said. "We completed more than the program we set out, so it was very good."
Verstappen pipped former teammate Carlos Sainz to the quickest time, with the Renault also moving up the order in the afternoon session to finish just 0.034sec adrift of the Red Bull. The Spaniard also topped 100 laps.
The year's first in-season test comes at a particularly useful time for Ferrari, with the team keen to understand why their car performed below expectations at last weekend's race.
Sebastian Vettel was back in the SF71-H and clocked 136 laps on the way to third place, just a tenth slower than Verstappen despite setting his lap on the soft compound.
"We learned various things on how to work on track like this one," Vettel said.
"We know we have a strong car."