Christian Horner poured cold water on the idea of Daniel Ricciardo racing for Red Bull in the coming season.
The Aussie will be a much-missed absentee on the Formula 1 grid when the new season begins in March. He remains close to the sport having signed a reserve driver deal with his old team, but that comes with no guarantee of any competitive racing action.
Fans have speculated that, should Sergio Perez go on a bad run of form, the team might promote Ricciardo to replace him. But Horner has downplayed the prospect of that happening, stating that the only chance he would have of racing would be if either Perez or Max Verstappen were forced to miss a race for whatever reason.
"We certainly have no plans to utilise him other than in that third driver role and to combine with the commercial activities that he will be performing," the team boss told Speedcafe.
Ricciardo's absence from the grid was not a planned one. He was due to race again for McLaren this season, having signed a three-year deal with the team – but it was cut short as he continued to struggle to extract performance and results during his second campaign.
Usually such a jovial character in the paddock, the strain it was putting on him was obvious to see. Reflecting on that, Horner said of the 33-year-old: "I think Daniel had fallen out of love a little bit with Formula 1. He'd had a couple of really tough seasons.
"For him to play a supporting role to race drivers as our third driver, both back in the factory and at events, with all the commercial partners we have, as one of the most recognisable faces currently in and around F1, for us, it made a lot of sense. Hopefully in that process, Daniel will rediscover his passion for Formula 1.
"We were surprised to see Daniel be out on the open market. For us, [Ricciardo] having grown up with Red Bull, having nurtured him since being a junior, it made sense for us to bring him back into the fold – a driver with so much experience and such a high profile.
"Daniel will be attending some races, where he will be our reserve driver for those events. He'll probably do a bit of tyre testing for us, to help with the Pirelli programme that gets distributed around the teams. He'll be doing some work in the simulator.
"Then of course, with the commercial demands that we have from the myriad of sponsors and partners we have – particularly with a much bigger presence in the US, where Daniel is predominantly based – he's going to have a busy agenda for the season ahead."