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Horner wants Ricciardo to stay amid Mercedes talk

Australia's Daniel Ricciardo could be the hottest property on the Formula One driver market next year and talk of a move to Mercedes for 2019 is gaining traction.

The Red Bull driver fuelled the speculation at the US Grand Prix by expressing a desire to measure himself against Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

"I've said for a long time (McLaren's double world champion Fernando) Alonso or Lewis would be the guys I'd love to see myself against," Ricciardo told ESPN before this morning's race.

"Alonso's getting towards the tail of his career so Lewis at the moment is more desirable for me to go up against. So I would like that.

"Obviously I had the chance with Seb (Vettel), I've had it with Max (Verstappen) and I'm going to have it again with Max for at least one more year. But while Lewis is in his prime, I would like to challenge and see."

Red Bull announced last Friday that Verstappen, 20, had agreed a new contract keeping him at the former world champions until the end of 2020.

More telling in the statement announcing that move was a comment by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner declaring the Dutch youngster to be "in the best place in the sport to build a team around him to deliver our shared ambition".

Ricciardo, 28, will be out of contract at the end of next season, as will Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.

"For me, it tells us that they (Red Bull) know Ricciardo is off," said former racer and Sky Sports television commentator Martin Brundle of the Verstappen announcement.

"It tells me Ricciardo will be in a Mercedes in 2019."

HIGHLY RATED

The Australian is also highly rated by Ferrari but repeating the old pairing of Ricciardo and Vettel at Red Bull might not be to either driver's taste.

Ricciardo beat four-time champion Vettel over the 2014 season, a year when the German - who joined Ferrari in 2015 - was reigning champion but strangely below par.

Vettel has a contract with the Italian team until the end of 2020, while Hamilton's is up for renewal at the end of next season.

Horner, however, insisted that he is determined to retain Ricciardo too.

On Saturday, Horner stressed that Red Bull had no intention of giving the Australian a supporting role.

He also rejected suggestions that Ricciardo would gain from a switch to Mercedes or Ferrari in a bid to win the world championship.

Said Horner: "Daniel is very happy within the team. If we can provide a competitive car, then I've got every confidence that he will be here in the future.

"He would have the same issues with those teams (Ferrari and Mercedes) and I think Red Bull fits well his personality.

"The way that we operate he sees he has very equal treatment and that he's not performing a supporting role.

"The way we operate here is that we give both drivers absolute opportunity. Within the other teams, he would be performing very much a supporting role."

Ricciardo said he would take his time to decide what to do and ultimately having a winning car was what mattered.

"I like the (Red Bull) brand a lot and obviously I like the team a lot. We've always been a good fit for each other so from that side it's all been really good.

"But for sure the performance is the No. 1 box to tick," he said. - WIRE SERVICES

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