He admitted a third driver role for Red Bull is his likeliest move after opting not to remain in the F1 2023 driver line-up with a midfield team.
Potential seats at Alpine, Haas and Williams came and went, and now Ricciardo looks set to return to Red Bull as back-up for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
“I knew that I wanted some time off next year from a race seat and just from competition,” he said.
“It’s been pretty tiring the last couple of years with the struggles so it was pretty clear to me shortly after the summer break that that was what I wanted and what was going to be best for me.
“‘What’s the next best thing?’ And the more I thought about it, to obviously be involved to some degree with a top team, that was obviously the preference.”
Ricciardo added that he hasn’t yet signed terms with Red Bull: “But it’s not done. So that’s why I haven’t come out and confirmed it, because that’s still the truth: it’s not done. But I can obviously look you in the eye now and say it’s the most likely option at this stage.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has insisted this agreement will not end with Ricciardo replacing Perez in 2024.
So the veteran Australian knows his time as a full-time driver might be over.
“[The third driver role will] either fuel the fire and make me hungry and more motivated than ever, or it will actually be like ‘oh, this is the right thing for you’, and in that case then I must be really happy,” he said.
“Because as much as you go through highs and lows of racing, I’m still very happy with life, and am privileged to live a good one. So if next year I’m not interested in coming back, then I must be doing some really cool s***.
“Last season was already quite difficult, but this season was more difficult again.
“So then the more time that passed, the more I felt like, as much as I love it, I want to make sure that I’m doing it at my highest level and with, let’s say, the freshest approach possible.
“Looking at next year, it’s 24 races. It’s more and more demanding the season. So as much as I love it, I think if I get jumped back into another situation, I might just not be the best version of myself.
“That’s why the more I thought about it, the more I was like, to jump back in and to let’s say rush it, just to be racing, probably doesn’t do myself justice or whichever team perhaps I would race for.”
Ricciardo will be replaced at McLaren by Oscar Piastri next year.