Daniel Ricciardo has conceded that Honda’s performances with Toro Rosso in Formula 1 next year could dictate his future amid speculation of a similar engine deal for Red Bull in 2019.
Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s F1 B-team, announced on Friday in Singapore it would be working with Honda from the start of next season, with the Japanese marque’s existing deal with McLaren being terminated by mutual consent at the end of the year.
The deal has been tipped as a precursor for a future link-up between Red Bull and Honda in 2019 following paddock suggestions that Renault will stop working with the team at the end of next season, having picked up McLaren as a customer team this week.
Honda’s struggles since returning to F1 in 2015 have been well-documented, causing the McLaren relationship to fracture due to a lack of performance and reliability from its power units.
With his contract set to expire at the end of next year, Ricciardo is set to be a key player in the driver market for 2019 when seats at every single team on the grid are due to be available.
Should a deal with Honda be struck for Red Bull, Ricciardo conceded he would take its performances with Toro Rosso into account next year when it came to deciding his future.
“I guess next year would be a pretty big year for that to assess what is going to happen, how they’ll look, how Honda is with where it’s at,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.
“You’d assess the situation and go from there. It’s so early to think about it.
“But I’ll think about it next year, and that’ll dictate where I go.”
When asked directly if Honda would be supplying engines to Red Bull in 2019, general motorsport manager Masashi Yamamoto admitted on Friday it could be an option.
“Our main goal now is to absolutely concentrate on 2018 and Toro Rosso. We are going to give our best to achieve our best performance together as a team,” Yamamoto said.
“But if there is a chance in the future to supply engines, why not?”
The only driver who looks locked in for 2019 is Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, with the rest of the field being free agents come the end of next season, including Ricciardo’s current teammate Max Verstappen.
Ferrari is understood to have expressed an interest in signing Ricciardo before, potentially rekindling the Australian’s partnership with Vettel at Red Bull from 2014.
Mercedes will also have two free seats for 2019, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ contracts expiring at the end of 2018.
Talking about Red Bull’s current driver line-up, team boss Christian Horner said he saw no reason to make any changes moving forward, but that there were plenty of options should they be required.
“Both of our drivers are currently under contract at least for next year, and it’s down to us to produce a good car and be competitive. Then, of course, why would the drivers want to be anywhere else?” Horner said.
“We’re not short of options on drivers, but our preference is absolutely to retain the two that we have in the car at the moment.”