Daniel Ricciardo could have two key deadlines ahead of him to decide his Formula 1 future beyond 2018 as rumours gather pace.
The Australian was always likely to be the main focus of the driver market for next season even before once again putting his overtaking prowess on display to take victory at the Chinese GP just over a week ago.
However, since Shanghai, his stock has sky-rocketed and now the latest speculation is an agreement between the current Red Bull man and Ferrari for talks over a potential move for next year has likely been signed.
“There are many different types of contractual options, but this one is said to be on both sides up to a defined date (reportedly June 30). Up until that time, neither party can officially negotiate with another,” reports Motorsport Magazine writer and Sky Sports analyst Mark Hughes.
"The driver is effectively locking himself out of the market for that time, discussions for his post-2018 services are contractually ‘owned’ by the team in this case Ferrari."
Hughes describes such agreements as "conventional" in F1 and also explains why there is high confidence that the talks are taking place with the Scuderia.
“Those privy to such matters at Red Bull are adamant that he has definitely signed something, somewhere but it’s not with them and it’s not with Mercedes. Logically, therefore, it must be Ferrari,” he claimed.
This comes despite many people anticipating Ricciardo would be more likely a target for Mercedes to replace Valtteri Bottas or, as ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle suggested, potentially even Lewis Hamilton, with his own contract talks still ongoing.
All this is leaving Red Bull in limbo and now team boss Christian Horner has stepped up the pressure by setting his own deadline for the six-time Grand Prix winner to make his call.
"There should be a decision by the summer break at the latest. We do not want to wait forever,” the Briton told Auto Motor und Sport.
"We have other good options. Our priority is to continue working with Daniel, but if that doesn't work out, we'll look to those other options."
Those options are Carlos Sainz, currently on loan from Red Bull at Renault with Pierre Gasly forcing his way into the picture after his recent performance in Bahrain.
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