The game of musical chairs triggered by Sebastian Vettel’s exit from Ferrari continues, with Daniel Ricciardo closing in on a move to McLaren in place of Carlos Sainz.
As reported by RACER on Tuesday, Sainz has emerged as the favorite to replace Vettel at Ferrari, with a deal potentially being concluded as early as this week. The Spaniard is seen as a good fit alongside Charles Leclerc having produced an impressive first season at McLaren as teammate to Lando Norris, and also showing up well against Max Verstappen when paired together at Toro Rosso.
Although McLaren had been keen to keep Sainz, it was also monitoring the situation with Ricciardo at Renault having just missed out on signing the Australian in the summer of 2018. Ricciardo has admitted he had a good connection in talks with McLaren but felt the team would take too long to return to competitiveness at the time. However, last year Sainz and Norris helped secure a comfortable fourth place in the constructors’ championship ahead of Renault.
While Vettel is now available, the German’s comments when leaving Ferrari suggested he is considering retirement, and it is believed McLaren is prioritizing Ricciardo to replace Sainz, signing a proven race winner who would also help maintain a similar atmosphere to the one the team built up over 2019.
Should those two moves go through, it will leave a space at Renault in 2021, with Fernando Alonso still weighing up options to return to the sport. While he had not suggested a Formula 1 return was likely next season due to the postponement of the introductions of new regulations, Renault remains the scene of his only two world championships, and would represent a works team opportunity when the new regulations finally come in.
Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul has previously stated his preference to promote a driver from its academy, where Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard are the highest-placed prospects, due to race in Formula 2 this year.
It is unclear at this stage if a move for Ricciardo is dependent on Sainz being signed by Ferrari, or if McLaren would push ahead with such a deal even before the Spaniard’s future was finalized.