A new Formula One season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5, but three of the grid’s most popular drivers will not be lining up on the starting grid.
One is the biggest star of the ‘Drive to Survive’ boom, the other is a four-time world champion and environmental activist, while the third has one of the most famous surnames in all of racing.
Here’s a look at what all three are doing this year and the liklihood of them racing in F1 again.
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Ricciardo thrived in front of Netflix’s cameras and has ridden the crest of that wave spectacularly, becoming one of F1’s most popular and most marketable drivers over the past few years. But he’s still without a race seat in 2023. Ricciardo and McLaren spent last year’s summer break negotiating an early end to his three-season deal, with the team buying him out of the final year.
He has returned to Red Bull, where he raced between 2014 and 2018 and won seven races, as its third driver. The role is largely marketing, although he will be doing simulator work at its Milton Keynes factory, something he is doing this week as part of the team’s preparations for the opening race.
As proven by his Instagram feed, the Australian has been busy over the off-season, which included a trip to the Super Bowl — even though his friend Josh Allen and team the Buffalo Bills did not make it — and an appearance on the Steven Colbert show the day before Red Bull launched its car at an event in Manhattan.
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Ricciardo’s return to his former team did of course raise the question of whether he could be a threat to Sergio Perez’s position at the team, but the Mexican driver signed an extension until 2024 after winning last year’s Monaco Grand Prix. It would take something pretty spectacular for Perez to leave the team at this point and it is hard to see Ricciardo wanting to return to F1 unless he has a competitive car at his disposal.
Ricciardo has also just released a new range to his clothing brand called FEA, which stands for ‘F— ’em all”, which seems to be a not-so-subtle nod to his former employers.
Sebastian Vettel hugs his father, Norbert, at the end of his final race in Formula One last November. Mark Thompson/Getty Images
For a fleeting moment in the hours after F1’s preseason testing finished last week it seemed as though Vettel could make a remarkable comeback for this week’s race with his former team Aston Martin, with Lance Stroll’s injury status still unclear. Vettel retired after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
Aston Martin quickly ended that, confirming reserve driver Felipe Drugovich will be the man to deputise if needed, meaning Vettel is for now still very much retired. According to German media, Vettel was on a camping trip with his family when Aston Martin boss Mike Krack called to check in on how he was doing.
In typical Vettel fashion, he’s been quiet since retiring.
He only set up an Instagram last year to announce his retirement and the account has amassed 2.6 million followers in a handful of months. Now it is used mainly to share pictures of Vettel’s childhood and his early racing career and is clearly something he very rarely touches himself.
Standout posts include Michael Schumacher, Vettel’s boyhood hero, at a karting event. Most posts include the hashtag #Thereisstillaracetowin.
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Vettel has been racing since leaving F1, taking part in the January’s Race of Champions event, partnering with Michael’s son Mick, who is also not racing in 2023.
Vettel is yet to confirm what his next racing project beyond F1 will be.
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Like Ricciardo, Schumacher is still on the grid this year in a third driver capacity. After being dropped by both Haas, who he raced for in 2020 and 2021, and from the Ferrari driver academy, he has been picked up by Mercedes. While his father was famous for his stint with Ferrari it has continued the long Schumacher affiliation with the Mercedes brand, as Michael started his career with its backing and then finished with a three-year comeback at the team between 2010 and 2012.
Unlike Ricciardo, Schumacher was at F1’s preseason test watching over Mercedes’ programme.
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This season Schumacher will also be available to McLaren, who run Mercedes engines, as reserve driver so would be in line to stand in for Lando Norris or Oscar Piastri at certain events. McLaren also has IndyCar’s Alex Palou in a reserve capacity but 10 of F1’s 23 races this year clash with his commitments in North America.
Schumacher will likely feature prominently in the driver market speculation that always kicks off in the middle of an F1 season. His experience of racing the modern generation of F1 cars will stand him in good stead for any teams looking for a 2024 option, although the question of whether he is talented enough to deserve a second shot is an open one in the paddock.
At the launch of Mercedes’ car, Schumacher suggested he’s heard from teams about next year.
Asked about a return, he said: “Well, there’s obviously no guarantee but I’m in a comfortable position where I feel I can learn. I can extract the maximum from this year even though I’m not driving.
“But with the results I’ve shown in the junior categories, but also in F1, I’m sure there will be opportunities. Over the winter a few people have already mentioned that there is interest, so in that sense I’m not too worried.”