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Four reasons why Daniel Ricciardo is being rushed back to the grid
The Honey Badger is back on the Formula 1 grid.
Rumors of a return to F1 have long been in the works for Daniel Ricciardo, almost as soon as he was announced as Red Bull’s reserve driver for the 2023 season. But those rumors came true on Tuesday, as it was announced that he would be replacing struggling rookie Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri at the next race, the Hungarian Grand Prix.
While earlier rumors indicated that Ricciardo might slide into that seat at the Dutch Grand Prix, following the summer break, the news that Ricciardo was coming back with immediate effect came as a shock.
In announcing the move, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner had this to say: “It was great to see Daniel hasn’t lost any form while away from racing and that the strides he has been making in his SIM sessions translate on track. His times during the tyre test were extremely competitive. It was a very impressive drive and we are excited to see what the rest of the season brings for Daniel on loan at Scuderia AlphaTauri.”
Ricciardo’s new boss at AlphaTauri had this to offer. “I’m very pleased to welcome Daniel back into the team,” commented Franz Tost, Scuderia AlphaTauri Team Principal. “There’s no doubt about his driving skill, and he already knows many of us, so his integration will be easy and straight-forward. The team will also profit a lot from his experience, as he is an eight-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner. I would like to thank Nyck for his valuable contribution during his time with Scuderia AlphaTauri, and I wish him all the best for the future.”
As for Ricciardo, he kept it simple.
“I’m stoked to be back on track with the Red Bull family!”
So the question now is: Why the sudden move?
This is a move to evaluate Yuki Tsunoda
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This move might have to do with other drivers than Ricciardo.
One such driver is Yuki Tsunoda.
De Vries’ teammate at AlphaTauri this season has been the stronger performer of the two. Tsunoda has out qualified De Vries in seven of the ten races this year, and has two points to his credit on the season, next to zero for De Vries.
Tsunoda also has a host of 11th-place finishes this year, including back-to-back P11s to open the year in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as an 11th-place finish in the Miami Grand Prix.
Is the gap between them a result of Tsunoda’s growth as a driver, or does it have more to do with De Vries’ struggles?
One way to find out is to get Tsunoda a different teammate and then compare the two. One of the unique aspects of F1 is the battle between teammates. Given the similarities in the car, is one teammate is clearly superior to the other, that might be a sign that a change needs to be made.
If Red Bull has a vision of moving Tsunoda to the main team at some point in the future, giving him a full-and-fair evaluation makes sense. Sliding Ricciardo into De Vries’ seat is a way to gauge just how much Tsunoda has grown. Should he continue to be the top driver at AlphaTauri — now against the veteran Ricciardo — that would speak volumes about his growth.
And could signal he is ready for a move to Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen at some point.
But if Tsunoda suddenly finds himself locked in a battle with Ricciardo at AlphaTauri, that might lower his odds of a seat at Red Bull in the future.
While perhaps increasing Ricciardo’s.
This is a move to evaluate Ricciardo for a Red Bull return
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There is the chance that this move comes now to evaluate Ricciardo for a return to Red Bull, perhaps as early as 2024.
Sergio Pérez is under contract through the 2024 season, but as we will outline in more detail momentarily, Pérez is under increasing pressure to improve his performance. Given that Red Bull has often been, let’s just say “less than patient” with the second seat, the team moving on from Pérez at some point in the future would not be a huge surprise.
Perhaps this trial for Ricciardo at AlphaTauri is a nod to an eventual return next to Verstappen?
Let’s not forget, it was something of a surprise that Ricciardo left Red Bull to begin with. When he left Red Bull for Renault (now Alpine) ahead of the 2019 season, it took the F1 world by surprise.
Perhaps even taking Ricciardo by surprise, as he said in the announcement. “It was probably one of the most difficult decisions to take in my career so far. But I thought that it was time for me to take on a fresh and new challenge. I realise that there is a lot ahead in order to allow Renault to reach their target of competing at the highest level but I have been impressed by their progression in only two years, and I know that each time Renault has been in the sport they eventually won. I hope to be able to help them in this journey and contribute on and off track.”
While Ricciardo struggled to find his form at Renault, and later McLaren, Red Bull struggled to find the right replacement for him. The team first tried Pierre Gasly, and later Alex Albon, before signing Pérez for the 2021 season.
Pérez helped Verstappen win the Drivers’ Championship in 2021, and was part of their Constructors’ title in 2022, but his recent struggled might have opened the door to a replacement, whether for 2024 or beyond.
Getting Ricciardo into the AlphaTauri seat sooner rather than later gives Red Bull a longer look at whether the Honey Badger is indeed an option, or if they need to look to one of their younger drivers — or a return from Albon perhaps — in the future.
This is all about pressuring Pérez to up his game
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As noted above, life as the second driver for Red Bull is never easy.
First you have to contend with Verstappen as a teammate. Driving alongside him cannot be easy, when he is distancing himself from the field week-after-week.
Second is the fact that Red Bull has been rather impatient at times with their second drivers. That pressure has been ramped up this year, given the dominance of the RB19. Verstappen said it himself after qualifying for the British Grand Prix: Q3 should be the “minimum.”
Q3 is something that Pérez has not seen since the Miami Grand Prix, at the start of May.
While it is true that Pérez is sitting second in the Drivers’ Championship, and inched a few points further in front of Fernando Alonso thanks to his result in the British Grand Prix, given the strength of the RB19, there might be a feeling around the team that second is also the “bare minimum” for the #2 driver at Red Bull, and that they could be getting an even better performance from another option.
Or, they could let Pérez think that, and have the driver believe that despite his current standing, he needs to improve.
Or Ricciardo gets his seat.
Life in F1 is not easy. The Netflix show was titled Drive to Survive for a reason. You either perform, or your team finds someone who will. We are talking about a sport with just 20 available spots, making it a more elite club of athletes than NFL starting quarterbacks. Given that the most popular person in many NFL cities is the backup quarterback, for many F1 teams the most popular driver is the next-best option.
Pérez might be second in the standings, but his performance — particularly in qualifying — has not been great as of late. If this move puts some pressure on him to up his game, and pays off, it will have paid off for Red Bull.
If, however, he continues to struggle, that might tell Red Bull all they need to know.
Perhaps this is really a look at all of the above?
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Perhaps the easiest answer is the catch-all answer.
This is a look at all of Red Bull’s options.
Sliding Ricciardo into De Vries’ seat gives them a clearer evaluation of Tsunoda. It also gives them a better look at Ricciardo on the track.
It also might put a little pressure on Pérez to perform.
In sports, the smart organizations are those that are forward-thinking. As a means of a refresher, my main area of expertise is in the NFL, with a background as a New England Patriots fan.
While the Patriots were making their run towards six Super Bowl titles with Tom Brady at the helm, they continued to draft quarterbacks. During Brady’s time in New England the Patriots drafted 11 quarterbacks, roughly one every two years Brady was entrenched as the starter.
When the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014, head coach Bill Belichick had this to say: “[w]ith the situation we have at quarterback…I think you’re better off being early than late at that position.”
Red Bull could be taking the same approach.
It is better to be early about any future decisions about the seat next to Verstappen, than it is to be late. The more information they can gather now, the better their ultimate decision will be.
Whether that is to leave Pérez where he is, to bump Tsunoda up, or to slide Ricciardo back into that seat at some point.
What they ultimately decide is unclear, but we do know this.
We are going to get some incredible Ricciardo/Tsunoda content in the near future.
Perhaps even more of this:
If nothing else, it might give us all a reason to tune in the rest of the F1 season.
At least until someone finally manages to catch Verstappen.
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