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Marko’s Mistake or Ricciardo’s Redemption? Our Writers’ on the Alpha Tauri swap

Written by the DIVEBOMB Team

De Vries was sacked by AlphaTauri after Silverstone. Credit - Peter Fox/Getty Images

Archie O’Reilly

Mistreatment from Marko and a decision that goes against the AlphaTauri ethos

Red Bull are a well-oiled machine and lead the Constructors’ Championship by an emphatic margin, yet within their ranks, when it comes to ‘junior team’ AlphaTauri, there is marked disarray.

To me, replacing Nyck de Vries at this early stage of his Formula One career is a bit of a disgrace, frankly. His teammate Yuki Tsunoda has been afforded time (two years, to be precise) and that is paying off. To then fire De Vries after a mere 10 races is lamentable. That’s no way to treat a rookie driver.

You simply cannot expect immediate results from a rookie, especially in a car underperforming so drastically. Patience is a virtue, and even for someone with De Vries’ relative experience elsewhere, it takes time for drivers to find their feet in F1, with the machinery vastly different to anything else.

The last time De Vries drove something remotely similar was when he won the Formula Two championship in 2019, and he has since grown into an esteemed endurance driver and won the 2021 Formula E championship.

Achievements elsewhere prove that he is no slouch, as did his one-off appearance for Williams in Monza last year, when he scored points on debut. With the right machinery, there is little doubt he could perform. There is an argument he was already closing the gap to Tsunoda to a degree.

De Vries deserved until at least the end of the season, as should be commonplace for rookies, with two years most ideal. The fact he has been replaced prematurely emphasises mismanagement from Helmut Marko, with deficiencies when it comes to nurturing talent. He even spoke publicly against De Vries, which is not a way to instil confidence in a driver perceived to be underperforming, instead piling on more pressure.

It doesn't reflect well on Marko and co. that De Vries was chosen before almost immediately being rendered surplus to requirements. And further, bringing in Daniel Ricciardo as opposed to someone like Liam Lawson, whose performances in Super Formula have justified an opportunity, goes against the AlphaTauri ethos of developing talent.

Ricciardo has even previously said he wasn’t keen on returning to a seat this year, and the AlphaTauri is hardly a competitive car. It will be a tall order for Ricciardo to turn things around performance-wise, hence unless this is a move to prime him for a possible Red Bull seat, they may as well have stuck with De Vries to give him a chance to continue to progress.

Hopefully De Vries can get the support he needs - it is crushing to see his lifelong dream crumble in this manner. And hopefully his reputation from elsewhere can get him back in a car somewhere soon enough.

De Vries didn't know it was his last race for Alpha Tauri. Credit - Peter Fox/Getty Images

Dan Jones

It’s the harsh reality of the Red Bull system

Whatever way you look at it, short-term, long-term, conceptually, the entire Red Bull structure is wavering, and has only been damaged further by the announcement. What people may forget in a situation like this, is that AlphaTauri is a try-out for the main team. If you aren’t going to cut it at AlphaTauri, you aren’t going to cut it at Red Bull.

And for me, that’s why the removal of de Vries makes sense. It’s harsh, it might be too soon, but if it’s clear from the get-go that de Vries is never going to have the capability to reach the Red Bull seat, is there any point in keeping him? It’s a cut-throat system, but you’d be foolish if you were to say that the system doesn’t work, when you consider the six drivers championships won, between two of the five greatest drivers of all time.

And Helmut Marko will be criticised, but when he’s previously built up such a rigorous and successful system, it’s clear he knows what he’s doing. His approach has worked with others, take Ricciardo, take Webber. Consider some of the big names he brought into F1 now: Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon (who let’s not forget was a left-field call up, just as de Vries was), and even those who haven’t made it in F1 have made it elsewhere: Sebastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne, the system clearly works.

De Vries was on the back foot from the get-go. Horner didn’t want him, Tost didn’t want him. He was under the most extreme of circumstances to impress Marko enough to prove that his decision was correct - it wasn’t. The lack of faith, combined with the lack of results meant that the question had to be raised. And I understand de Vries is a rookie, and I understand that people wanted him to have more time, but the level of experience he’s had in his career in vastly different machinery, as well as the extortionate amount of testing he had compared to other rookies is often less noticed. I get the argument that he needs time, but if he himself isn’t going to make it at Red Bull, and the fact that Tsunoda cannot be marked against him to see if he’s ready for Red Bull doesn’t justify him keeping his position,

But the replacement of Ricciardo shows the AlphaTauri/RBJT development system is floundering. It’s Red Bull’s third ‘external’ recruitment in three seasons, and the Ricciardo choice baffles me, particularly in the long-run. I don’t think he’s a threat to Perez, he might give the Mexican a wake-up call, but it would be desperate if they were to replace him at seasons-end, particularly when he left the team as they supposedly weren’t good enough for him. Yes, he will give a better benchmark for Tsunoda to meet, but the general consensus is that he’s looking to jump ship with Honda for Aston Martin.

Ricciardo won’t bring in the points that AlphaTauri desperately need - the AT04 isn’t strong enough, and he will take a while to get back up to speed. I get it, he’s a temporary solution between now and the inevitable arrival of either Liam Lawson or Ayumu Iwasa in 2024, but if he’s only being the benchmark for Tsunoda, you may as well have kept on with de Vries who was showing signs of improvement, or cut short Lawson’s Super Formula campaign to give him 12 races preparation for his 2024 campaign.

Ricciardo isn’t the solution to Red Bull’s long-term issue of the smaller talent pool, and lack of faith in it’s junior drivers. I find a Red Bull seat an extortionately optimistic viewpoint from Ricciardo, and the initial disagreement over de Vries was looming over him from the start, and would have been near impossible to reach the lofty expectations he was placed under. Yes, there was little point keeping him on as I touched on, but de Vries knew the seat he was signing up for, and the harsh realities of the system he’d be placed under.

Owen Bradley

De Vries should have stuck with Mercedes, as Marko Makes Money Moves

Nyck De Vries, a Formula 2 and Formula E champion, looked as if he would be one of the next great drivers in Formula One. But after 10 races in 2023, and 11 races in his F1 career, it seems as though he might be done.

De Vries was beaten by Tsunoda in 9/10 races, and scored zero points within these 10 races, and a best result in 2023 of 12th place. Of course, this AlphaTauri car is not performing to where it needs to be, and this is definitely a sign that AlphaTauri have been heading in the wrong direction ever since the end of 2020 or arguably, 2021. De Vries had his first race at Monza 2022, and did a solid job in a Williams, scoring a couple of points on his debut. He raced with Mercedes in Formula E and had often been seen in the Mercedes F1 garage. However, it was quite the surprise when he chose to join the Red Bull B team, Alphatauri.

Personally, I understand that people are frustrated at De Vries’ departure. But, I don’t think we can blame anybody but De Vries for putting himself in this position. He chose to leave Mercedes, which might have been a potential opportunity for him with Williams and then building up to the main Mercedes F1 team like George Russell did. Instead, he attempted to follow the Verstappen route, with crucial differences.

De Vries is 28 years old. Whilst this is still young enough for him to make his mark, and is actually younger than the AlphaTauri replacement, Daniel Ricciardo - this is still much older than most drivers to make their debut rookie F1 season. He was not improving fast enough, which for a 28-year old at the arguable physical peak of your career, you should be performing exceptionally quick. For reference, Max Verstappen managed to secure a P4 finish for Toro Rosso at the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix in his rookie season. Nyck De Vries, whilst not making it to Hungary, actually has had the same amount of races as Verstappen at that point in his career. Of course, the main difference will be the car and Max’s extraordinary luck with the two Mercedes drivers colliding, but the statistics do not lie.

Many of the modern F1 drivers made their debut with these backmarker teams, and have managed to shine through. George Russell in particular is somebody who made his debut in 2019 with the terrible Williams car, and whilst he didn’t score points, he proved many things that year by being a strong personality and showing impressive pace despite a poor car. Unfortunately, De Vries lacked in being a strong presence on the grid, and became more of an F1 meme.

Ricciardo’s Return is a tough one to call. On the one hand, he had a tyre test at Silverstone with Red Bull, where he was allegedly fast enough to have been on the front row of the grid at the actual British Grand Prix, but at the same time he is joining the AlphaTauri team, not Red Bull. Whilst there are many reasons which I’ll get into, I think Helmut Marko might have made a marketing move here, as Daniel Ricciardo is great for social media and he is a driver who has a large fanbase and can definitely bring in some money for Red Bull and Alphatauri. The question will be, can he also bring the performance?

There are rumours that Ricciardo is being brought into this team, to start putting pressure onto Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, who hasn’t made it into Q3, five times out of ten so far this season. Of course there has also been the internal and mostly private frustrations between Verstappen and Perez, which could evolve into more if there are further accidents or incidents this year. Should Verstappen and Perez run into each other at any point, an argument can definitely be made for Ricciardo to join Red Bull in 2024. But this can only happen with one crucial thing happening.

Now, Ricciardo needs to have a strong pace, to earn his place.

The AT04, de Vries' drive for the season. Credit - Peter Fox/Getty Images

Olly Radley

A step in the wrong direction for AlphaTauri

For me, AlphaTauri’s decision to dismiss De Vries in favour of Ricciardo is not only one lacking justification and humility, but one that doesn’t fix any more problems than it causes. The first important point is that Nyck De Vries should have been kept until the end of the season. For months, the Dutchman has had to deal with Helmut Marko slamming his performances in the media, as if they were reminiscent of Nikita Mazepin’s rookie year. While Marko would like you to believe this to rationalise his sacking of De Vries, it hasn’t nearly been the landslide domination that it’s been presented as. On average, the qualifying gap between De Vries and Tsunoda is 0.224s. As a reasonable comparison - since we all recall the terror of Mazepin’s debut year - the gap between him and his rookie teammate Mick Schumacher in their first ten races was 0.514 seconds.

While Nyck De Vries wasn’t setting the world alight, all rookies require time to prove their worth. Tsunoda himself has been very generously kept for a third year with AlphaTauri. In his debut year, he was outscored by teammate Pierre Gasly in the ratio of 0.29 : 1 - the season after, that ratio improved to 0.52 : 1. If that isn’t recent, relevant proof that rookies like Nyck De Vries need time to grow into F1, then I don’t know what is. The poor performance of the AT04 makes it hard to measure rookies like De Vries - especially when his teammate is one of the poorest drivers on the grid - and limits us to vague, weak comparisons like finishing position or qualifying position that don’t paint Nyck De Vries a pretty harsh picture. So for me, the short and simple story of it is that sacking Nyck De Vries was a poor call from Helmut Marko. However, the hire of Daniel Ricciardo is just as bad.

The redemption story of Daniel Ricciardo, as touching as it is, isn’t going to do him any favours whatsoever. Daniel’s a brilliant driver but under high pressure to lead McLaren over the past two years, he’s struggled. Given he’s stepping into the worst team on the grid, his half a season out of the sport and poor car to be in means the pressure is well and truly off Danny Ric since there’s very little to play for. As a short term fix, he will most likely outperform Yuki Tsunoda, who’s surely grown comfortable with his rookie teammate. Personally, I don’t think a short-term fix is what’s required to turn AlphaTauri’s fortunes around.

As I said, Daniel Ricciardo will improve results for AlphaTauri, but he can only perform as well as his car will allow him to, and the fact is that the AT04 is the worst car on the grid by some margin. Ricciardo’s an accomplished race-winner, but put him in the worst car and he’s not going to waltz it into the points every weekend as if by magic. Points will be up for grabs some weekends when a bit of luck’s on his side but those weekends are more ifs than whens. Daniel will provide good feedback to the team in Faenza, but if he’s “on loan” from Red Bull, then it’s not him that they should be developing their car around. The sensible move that AlphaTauri should’ve made was keeping Nyck De Vries until the end of the season at least to see if he can improve his results like all the AlphaTauri-Toro Rosso rookies before him who were given time to show their ability. If results didn’t improve, and AlphaTauri didn’t feel as if he was a driver for the future or one of Red Bull calibre, then it would’ve been fair to move him on and sign a young, project driver with bags of potential in him, like RBJT’s Liam Lawson. Then, with lessons learnt from the failure of the previous rookie, AlphaTauri can work with Lawson or whichever youngster they’d opted for to develop the car and provide the driver with race experience in F1 to potentially create Red Bull’s next star. For me, the decision made by AlphaTauri is a lazy and thoughtless decision; you can’t help but feel like they’re slamming the panic button.

Sean McKean

The Integrity of AlphaTauri Potentially at Stake?

Though a harsh one, Helmut Marko’s decision to drop Nyck de Vries has justification. However, the driver they chose to replace him with puts the image of AlphaTauri at risk of losing credibility.

I feel everyone knew this was coming: losing the qualifying and race head-to-head decisively to teammate Yuki Tsunoda and having common mistakes, the discussion was around since day 1 on who his replacement would be. While it’s no doubt that de Vries was underperforming, I question Helmut Marko’s methods of testing these young drivers. In the media, Marko constantly stated that de Vries’s ride was in danger and that he should get a move-on. As a rookie in Formula 1, a sport where pressure is already at the highest it’s likely been in your whole career, it can’t do any good to your motivation as a driver to have your boss constantly slamming your performances in the media. If Marko’s approach to developing talent is to put a knife in their back and hope they extract performances out of it, then I don’t think Helmut Marko should be running the Red Bull Junior Team.

Now, in comes Daniel Ricciardo. While it’s great to see the Honey Badger return to Formula 1, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, admittedly. There were better options from Red Bull’s pool of junior drivers they could have picked. The most notable example is Liam Lawson, a Kiwi driver that currently sits second in the Super Formula Championship. Considering Lawson is winning races in a series with tracks he’s never even walked before until now and has a super license, I do not understand what was limiting AlphaTauri from picking Lawson.

If the point of the team is to develop junior talents into taking a main-team seat, I - personally - would much rather pick the hot prospect tearing it up in a competitive field overseas than a veteran who got outperformed by a 23-year-old two years consecutively. Sorry.

de Vries racecraft was largely questionable all season; Credit - Clive Mason/Getty Images

Vyas Ponnuri

Nyck de Vries should have been given AT LEAST one season before being judged

Like many, I was disappointed to see AlphaTauri axe Nyck de Vries barely halfway into the season. Every rookie deserves at least a full season to showcase their potential, irrespective of their struggles or their incidents across the season, before the bosses decide on the next step.

Yes, he has been involved in incidents, yes, his racecraft may not be up to the standards of experienced Formula One drivers. Yes, he is 28, and that’s old for any rookie in the sport, but he is still a rookie. Age is just a number, and how old he is shouldn’t determine his status in the sport. De Vries was taking part in his debut season.

Few drivers can boast of the achievements possessed by de Vries on his racing resume. Formula 2 champion, Formula E champion (albeit in a largely chaotic season), and was even offered to drive for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship this season, alongside a Formula E seat. Yet, he declined the options to pursue a career in the pinnacle of motorsport. De Vries’ vast career traits highlight his skill and expertise in the world of motorsport.

And, more importantly, Nyck de Vries joined Formula One this season, having raced in Formula E for the past couple of seasons. He is in a niche, having been the only driver to race in Formula E before switching to Formula One. And the gulf between both series is well-known. Drivers have switched to Formula E from Formula One, and have struggled to adapt to the energy-saving needs of the electric cars (an example is Antonio Giovinazzi in 2022).

Conversely, it’s an enormous learning curve for a driver to adapt to a fast-paced sport such as Formula One, with the impetus on going hard into the corners, and the staggering G-Forces faced by the F1 drivers. In qualifying, drivers have to push into every single corner, and the F1 cars have so much more downforce compared to the Formula E cars, which will require a driver of de Vries calibre to make changes to his driving style, to tame these beasts.

Add to this, the fact Formula One races on many road courses and fast-paced street circuits, such as those in Jeddah, Canada, Austria, Bahrain, and more. The only commonality between their calendars is racing on the streets of Monaco. Even on the streets of the Principality, the F1 car is a completely different beast compared to its electric beasts. It is never easy for a driver to be right on the pace from the outset, especially a driver in his debut season.

Another factor not helping de Vries' case is the AT04, his drive for the 10 races prior. The car has been a difficult beast to handle, and is evidenced by their position in the standings. They have only scored a couple of points so far, both by Yuki Tsunoda, who has been driving exceptionally well this season.

Later, it was even quoted by Red Bull supremo Helmut Marko that de Vries was expected to be equal to his teammate Tsunoda by this year, but he’s always been three tenths off his more experienced teammate. And, if I’m being honest, three tenths off is good for a driver in his debut season. If you have a car that isn’t being competitive, it would always be a best bet to give your rookie driver a longer run, to see how he would cope and if he would start to close the gap even further to Tsunoda.

All in all, a lot could be said about the sacking of de Vries, but it seems more of a desperate move by Alpha Tauri to drop him. And the signing of Daniel Ricciardo is only a stop-gap solution, to allow the younger drivers such as Liam Lawson to get a full season to prove their potential. I don’t see much of a rationale behind replacing a young driver with an experienced driver, it’s something that baffles me, and will continue to do so in the future too.

1 comment

1 Comment

Jul 17, 2023

I don't really know what the Red Bull / Alpha Tauri setup really is now... it seems to have become a bit of a weird chaos, whilst somehow maintaining steamrollering Max to the title again. In no particular order....

I don't know why Perez is really in a Red Bull, he came from outside the process and whilst obviously good doesn't necessarily seem lots better than anyone else. He is by some margin clear number 2 which may be what was desired but its turning out not to be a good look really with lots of finger pointing and dissatisfaction..

I don't understand why Alpha Tauri appear to be cast adrift so much from the RB team, how have one…

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