There doesn't appear to be much doubt about Daniel Ricciardo's talks with Ferrari, but Red Bull's Christian Horner says the Aussie's case must be settled by Formula 1's summer break.
Ricciardo is rumored to have signed a pre-agreement with the House of Maranello by which both parties are locked into an exclusive negotiating period until the end of June.
Motorsport Magazine's Mark Hughes is among those who think the speculation has substance.
“There are many different types of contractual options, but this one is said to be on both sides up to a defined date (believed to be June 30). Up until that time, neither party can officially negotiate with another,” reports the astute Hughes.
“Because 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).
“As such, he will be paid a fee. Between now and then he and Ferrari can negotiate about a future contract. This is all conventional F1 practice,” adds the Sky Sports F1 analyst.
“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.”
While obviously playing his cards close to his chest, Ricciardo revealed last week his will to secure a deal that would be no longer than two years, given the uncertainty surrounding the sport and its new regulations beyond 2020.
"I don't want to sign anything too long because I don't know where the sport's going," he told The Times.
"I think two years I can definitely be comfortable with and then see it from there."
Red Bull Racing is eager to retain the Honey Badger, but Christian Horner insists the Milton Keynes-based outfit will need to have the matter settled, one way or the other, by August.
"There should be a decision by the summer break at the latest. We do not want to wait forever,” Horner 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.
When asked what alternatives Red Bull is considering, Horner said: "The most obvious is Carlos Sainz. He is under contract to us.
"And then we have a few young drivers."