By the end of 2022, the last chapter in Daniel Ricciardo's Formula 1 career looked like it was written.
Even though he delivered McLaren's first win since Brazil 2012 in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, his follow-up season was mediocre and marred with underperforming results.
After getting picked up by his old team Red Bull, an opportunity presented itself when Nyck de Vries also failed to deliver on his promise.
The 2020/21 Formula E World Champion struggled to get to grips in the tricky AT04, and by the midway point of the season he was ousted by the team and Ricciardo was back on the grid.
However, the comeback was halted after just two weekends with a broken hand sustained in a Dutch GP practice crash, sidelining Ricciardo for five races until a return in the United States, although he showed his class in Mexico.
Fourth in qualifying and seventh in the race, it was a fine performance, with Ricciardo making it no secret that his eyes are on Sergio Perez's seat at Red Bull for 2025, but states in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365 that he is also in his place at AlphaTauri.
"I knew with everything that has happened in the last 12 months that I had to take a step back to take two steps forward," Ricciardo says.
"I don't mean that in a negative way to AlphaTauri. I eventually had to reset ultimately and I think being here [in this team] I'm enjoying a lot more than I thought I would.
"Even for myself, just building myself back up and building my confidence and I'm on a team where I get that. They have big plans for next year, because we are moving away from being a junior team and want to compete at the front of the midfield."
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Ricciardo impressed with young drivers
"We are also getting a little more support from Red Bull, the energy is going in the right place and then we'll see," Ricciardo refers to the increased cooperation between Red Bull and AlphaTauri.
"Obviously my goal is to return to Red Bull one day, that's the fairy tale and I would love to finish my career there. But I also try not to get caught up in that.
"That's why I call it a fairy tale, because it's not a reality or a certainty until it actually happens. I want to perform as well as I can with this team and fourth place in Mexico [qualifying] makes me so happy."
When Ricciardo made his switch to Renault, it was done as Team Enstone had ambitions to get back to the glory years between 2005 and 2006 with Fernando Alonso.
It was clear the Australian did not want to potentially waste his peak performance years playing second fiddle to Max Verstappen, but after his time spent on the sidelines this has changed his approach.
"It would be really great if I can drive again in a car that can win, but otherwise I just want to return to a place where I feel I can be at my best. That will make me happy," says Ricciardo, who touches on the talent coming through the ranks, and how the level in F1 has changed a lot since he made his debut on the grid with backmarkers HRT at the 2011 British Grand Prix.
"The young drivers coming through are extremely talented. I don't think there is going to be any young driver that isn't fast. The speed and technical feedback, the level has improved compared to ten years ago.
"Drivers like Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, who won a Sprint race in his first season, pretty crazy results. The level now in F1 is always pretty high, but you really feel how high it is and if you're not at a level of confidence in the car I think you can quickly get separated from your teammate."
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"Seems like the talent is getting younger and younger."
Ricciardo experienced that himself at McLaren, where Norris was consistently faster: "Lando started getting better and better and it looked like I was getting worse and worse. But of course Lando proved he is a very good driver.
"It's interesting when you look at rookies because like many sports now, it seems like the talent is getting younger and younger. At the same time, you have older guys like Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton showing that you can still do it if you really want to. What is cool."
Ricciardo also learned a valuable lesson from the sidelines when dealing with pressure when things do not necessarily start go your way on track.
"There is so much involved in this sport, because you are always compared to your teammate. If your teammate consistently does consistently a good job, all eyes are on you. Then there is pressure on you, and maybe on your engineer, and things can get out of hand quickly," he explains.
"Now I know what to watch out for when I join a new team, a new engineer and a new environment. If I see that something is going left when it should be going right, I am aware of that. Then I think, 'okay, let's take a breath, step back and go back to basics,'."