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Ricciardo off limits to Mercedes: Red Bull

Press Association logoPress Association 4/12/2016

Daniel Ricciardo's bosses at Red Bull have ruled out releasing the Australian driver to join Mercedes as Nico Rosberg's replacement.

Following the Formula One world champion's shock retirement, Mercedes will begin their search for a new driver on Monday with Ricciardo having just completed a career-best season.

Rosberg's decision to walk away from motor racing just five days after sealing his maiden title leaves Mercedes - Formula One's all-conquering team, who have won 51 of the past 59 races - with a vacant seat next season.

The 27-year-old Ricciardo confirmed his status as one of the sport's most exciting talents when he claimed third in the championship behind Mercedes duo Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

But Red Bull boss Christian Horner said Ricciardo and his rising star Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, 19, were off limits.

"Our drivers are both on long-term contracts," Horner told the UK Mirror.

Sebastian Vettel has also played down claims he could partner Hamilton at Mercedes in 2017.

Vettel, the four-time world champion, who has just finished a disappointing campaign with Ferrari after he failed to record a victory, has been mooted as a mouth-watering candidate to replace his compatriot Rosberg at the German manufacturer.

But the 29-year-old still has one year to run on his Ferrari contract, and Vettel rebuffed suggestions he could team up with Hamilton in 2017.

Asked at the Ferrari Finals in Daytona whether he had been in touch with Mercedes, Vettel replied: "I think it is not a big secret. Kimi (Raikkonen) and myself both have a contract (at Ferrari) for next year so it should be clear.

"A lot of things are happening but for us it is rather quiet which is a good sign. We are focusing on our job that we have which is a lot of work for next year."

Vettel won four consecutive titles with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013 before joining Ferrari.

However, despite winning three times in his opening campaign, he was warned by team boss Maurizio Arrivabene this year he would have to earn his next deal with the Italian team.

Earlier on Sunday, Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, said he expected the team to have a replacement for Rosberg before the end of the year.

McLaren's Fernando Alonso is also in the frame - but like Vettel is under contract for next year - while Pascal Wehrlein, Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon would offer potential for the future and are easier to secure.

"We certainly need a driver for the first test of the new car in February," Lauda Lauda told BBC 5 Live's Sportsweek.

"But I can assure you it will happen earlier because whoever it is we have to train them on the simulator, train him into the team.

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