Written by Olivia Hartley, Edited by Debargha Banerjee
Since Alpha Tauri’s shock announcement that current Red Bull reserve driver, Daniel Ricciardo, will be replacing their rookie, Nyck de Vries with immediate effect, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding Daniel’s return to the sub par team and what his Formula 1 future looks like.
This confusion comes primarily as a result of Daniel’s history in the sport as well as his own words regarding the calibre of team he would be willing to drive for. Between 2014 and 2018, Ricciardo raced for Red Bull alongside four-time champion, Sebastian Vettel, and later reigning champion, Max Verstappen, where he saw a substantial amount of success. He achieved seven of eight of his race wins with the team and finished third in the drivers championship two years running, before stepping down with principal, Christian Horner, claiming that “he did not want to be second driver”. In addition to this, after Daniel lost his seat in McLaren due to lack of performance in 2022, he had two seat options offered to him in the form of Williams and Haas. At this point, Daniel made it clear that he would not be accepting a seat at a low performance team just for the sake of remaining on the grid stating, “I think there could be some better options then [for 2024]”.
As a result, it is clear why confusion would arise from his choice to accept a seat at a team that currently sits at the very bottom of the constructors championship. The only answer to this question? The promise of a potential Red Bull seat in the near future. In the remaining portion of this article, I will discuss the reasons why I believe the move to the Red Bull junior team is simply an attempt to prime him to take a seat at the top in place of Sergio Perez.
Ricciardo does not want to race for Alpha Tauri
The first reason is simple, as already discussed in part above, Daniel Ricciardo has not kept it a secret that he is willing to be picky about his seat. It doesn’t make sense, with his career history, that he would accept a seat at the lowest performing team unless it was a temporary stepping stone towards something better.
Ricciardo started his F1 journey with the Red Bull junior team and Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri). It would be odd if Daniel was happy being right back where he started his career all these years later. The only way he might be content with this, is under the circumstance that Christian Horner had reassured him that he would be considered for Sergio’s seat in the near future depending upon performance of course.
Lack of performance from Perez
Not too many races ago, a large number of the general population would have claimed that one would be crazy to think that Sergio’s seat is under any threat. Previously, he had been performing as the perfect second driver; Perez was securing numerous race wins and staying close to Max in the championship. However, things seem to have turned for the worse for the Mexican. This season, he has failed to make it to Q3, the final phase of a qualifying session, on six out of ten race weekends. This does not match the level of performance expected from Red Bull.
If this was last season, one could have argued that it doesn’t matter so much, as Perez is still second in the drivers championship, and Red Bull are so far ahead anyway. However, Red Bull’s clear and complete dominance is now under threat. Aston Martin applied the pressure at the start of the season, with Fernando Alonso taking the lead over Perez in the drivers championship for a short time. McLaren are now threatening to give Red Bull a run for their money after bringing the second phase of a series of upgrades to the British Grand Prix and achieving a podium finish as well as a front and second row start in qualifying. Therefore, Horner may be looking ahead and thinking that they need a more reliable second driver that is going to perform closer to Verstappen if they want to maintain their dominance. It is usually the case in this situation that they will look to their junior team to promote one of their drivers, and when this happens, Daniel Ricciardo will be there.
It is common knowledge that Perez and Verstappen have butted heads on a few occasions. Most famously, in Brazil last year, Max refused to let Perez overtake him despite the fact that he had already secured the championship and Perez was fighting a close battle for second place against Charles Leclerc. Max sounded frustrated over the radio saying “I told you already last time, you guys don’t ask that again to me”. This was reportedly the result of Verstappen’s belief that Perez had purposefully crashed out of qualifying during that year’s Monaco Grand Prix in order to start ahead of Max and ultimately secure the race win. Perez did not respond well to this, stating that “It shows who he [Max] really is”.
In contrast, Daniel and Max have a well documented friendship and seem to get along very well on a personal level, regardless of previous challenges they faced as teammates. With rumours circulating that Max is bored in Formula 1, after he stated that winning is “not something that will keep [him] here forever” and also that he “want[s] to do other things and not only Formula 1 at some stage”, it is clearly within the teams interest to keep the championship driver happy for as long as possible. It could be the case that Horner believes having a teammate that Max gets along with well and enjoys racing with will keep him in the sport longer and allow the team to capitalise on his talents.
Daniel has always been a popular member of the grid, regardless of which team he is racing for. He has a large fanbase and a contagious smile that sponsors cannot resist. Red Bull have not been hesitant to take advantage of this. Even as their reserve driver, he is already the star of their social media channels. Horner even went so far as to make a joke on the main fan stage at Silverstone, asking the audience “whether they would like [him] better, if he brought Daniel back” causing the crowd to erupt into cheers.
It is not difficult to understand why the team would believe that bringing Ricciardo back, not just as a reserve but as a driver with his own seat, could bring in even more money and sponsorship to the team.
To conclude, it is my firm belief, as a result of everything discussed above, that Daniel Ricciardo has been assured of something bigger than the Alpha Tauri seat in the near future and has been advised by Christian Horner to fill in for Nyck de Vries for the rest of this season.