And that chance to stay in Formula 1 came in the form of being a reserve driver for Red Bull, the place where the Aussie achieved his peak driving success. But now the wind of change is blowing as there's turmoil within Red Bull's sister team, Alpha Tauri.
The racing outfit signed Nyck de Vries to drive alongside Yuki Tsunoda following a stellar performance by the 28-year-old Dutch driver behind the wheel of a Williams in Monza last year. He arrived at the team riding a wave of hype, even seen by some fans as having the potential to join Red Bull in the future for an all-Dutch lineup.
But as of this season, de Vries has been constantly underperforming. Not only has he been out-qualified and outraced by his teammate, but he also made some costly mistakes. Especially in Baku, where he crashed in qualifying, hit Tsunoda in the sprint race, and then crashed again during the Grand Prix.
The following race wasn't an improvement either, as de Vries crashed into the back of Lando Norris after locking up his brakes in the first corner of the Miami Grand Prix. And if there's one thing that Red Bull is known for is not tolerating failure, as evidenced by the treatment received by both Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon when they underperformed.
And as Alpha Tauri is the sister team, there is reason to believe de Vries' seat is currently under threat. That rings especially true as the Dutch rookie has reportedly been issued an ultimatum by Helmut Marko to improve within the next three Grand Prix races in Imola, Monaco, and Barcelona. On top of that, Ricciardo has also done a seat fitting for the racing outfit, further fueling speculation regarding an imminent switch.
Granted, that does not guarantee that the Aussie will end up being moved into the Dutchman's seat or that he would even want to, having turned down offers from underperforming teams in the past. There's also the fact that Alpha Tauri already has a driver available to fill that seat in Liam Lawson. This means that if Ricciardo does get thrown into the Alpha Tauri seat, it will likely be just until the end of the season.
But that could play to the Aussie's advantage, as all he needs to do is turn in a couple of great results and get back on the radar of bigger teams. It's doubtful that Ricciardo is aiming for a return at Red Bull, as he would end up in the same position of playing second fiddle to Max Verstappen that made him leave back in 2018.
However, offers could come in if he can prove to the other teams that he's still got the racecraft that made him a force to be reckoned with a few years ago. Even if the grid looks set for now, with all the big teams having driver pairing they stand behind, that does not mean they won't jump at the chance to get Ricciardo.
Granted, that's if he can prove he's the same Daniel who comprehensively outscored the defending four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in his first season at Red Bull. But even with all the caveats and speculation involved in this bit of F1 drama, it's still a nice bit of hope for fans of the Honey Badger (myself included) to hold on to.