Ricciardo’s Red Bull Return: A Tumultuous Tale
Amidst a turbulent F1 season, Daniel Ricciardo’s unexpected move to Red Bull has sparked intrigue. With a seat fitting at AlphaTauri and a struggling rookie Nyck de Vries in the backdrop, Ricciardo’s ambitions for a grid return by 2024 are clear. This comprehensive narrative explores the dynamics of these events, the role of reserve drivers, and the potential implications for future races.
Daniel Ricciardo has completed a seat fitting for AlphaTauri’s Formula 1 vehicle in line with his 2023 responsibilities at Red Bull.
This is happening amidst a challenging beginning to the rookie season for Nyck de Vries, one of AlphaTauri’s two current drivers.
While these two events may not be connected, it seems that the pressure on De Vries may be escalating, particularly as he approaches a trio of familiar tracks.
When Ricciardo made the decision to part ways with McLaren, he did so with the intention of securing a different role in F1, which he eventually found with Red Bull.
In his capacity as the team’s designated ‘third driver’, Ricciardo is heavily involved in promotional activities in 2023. However, his role is not merely restricted to marketing. He has spent time on the simulator, served as a backup driver on-site at two races (Australia and Miami), and is scheduled to pilot the Red Bull car in a minimum of two Pirelli tyre tests this year – with the inaugural test set to take place at Silverstone following the British Grand Prix.
His backup duties are somewhat limited, as he’s only expected to attend eight grands prix in a typical year.
However, when present on-site, it’s understood that Ricciardo provides cover for both AlphaTauri and the senior team. This is thought to be the reason behind his recent seat fitting at AlphaTauri’s Faenza factory.
Ricciardo’s goal is to return to the grid by 2024. Having managed an amicable departure from McLaren and having gained some distance from F1 after the challenges of the preceding two seasons, he’s content yet driven to make a comeback.
Ricciardo’s goal is to demonstrate that he’s not the driver he appeared to be during his stint at McLaren, and the 2023 AlphaTauri car doesn’t seem to provide that opportunity.
However, if Ricciardo is genuinely committed to securing an F1 race seat once again, and one opens up within the Red Bull organization, he might see it as a necessary interim step – particularly if his ultimate aim is to prove to Red Bull how capable he still is.
The reason why a reserve driver like Ricciardo fitting a seat at AlphaTauri has attracted attention is due to the backdrop of De Vries’s first F1 season.
De Vries secured his spot at AlphaTauri after a surprising points finish during his F1 debut at last year’s Italian Grand Prix, where he stepped in for Alex Albon at Williams on Saturday morning.
However, at the outset of his inaugural full season in F1, De Vries has been consistently outperformed by third-year driver Yuki Tsunoda.
The 2023 AlphaTauri has proven to be a challenging vehicle to handle, particularly due to its lack of load during braking, which has caused complications when entering corners. Despite these difficult circumstances, De Vries has been unable to match Tsunoda’s performance to date.
On average, he’s 0.328% slower than Tsunoda in qualifying, and trails 4-1 in direct comparisons.
The disparity between the two drivers is also evident during the actual races. De Vries’ best finishes have been 14th place (in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia), while Tsunoda has managed two 10th places and three 11th place finishes.
De Vries only advanced to Q2 twice, in Australia and Miami, and experienced two crashes in Azerbaijan during both qualifying and the race, which he acknowledged as a “very silly” mistake.
In the most recent race in Miami, De Vries seemed to have a slight pace advantage over Tsunoda and progressed to Q2, despite it being a less successful weekend for the team. However, he ended up locking up and rear-ending Lando Norris at the first turn.
De Vries’ current team manager, Franz Tost, recently expressed support for the Dutch driver in Baku, stating that it’s normal for rookies to make errors.
However, it’s suggested that other sections of the Red Bull management team, which could likely involve Helmut Marko, are less forgiving. As a result, De Vries may only have a handful of races left to secure his position.
If Ricciardo is the primary choice to succeed De Vries, should he be removed, this would imply that Red Bull prefers to test Ricciardo rather than provide an opportunity to another reserve driver – Liam Lawson.
Lawson, a Formula 2 race winner, is presently competing in the Super Formula in Japan alongside his F1 team responsibilities, and is an early title contender after a victorious debut and top five finishes in the other two races.
This is a commendable start in a championship renowned for its difficulty for newcomers. Red Bull believes Lawson has potential, and he is reported to have made a strong impression in his F1 appearances to date.
However, if securing a spot at AlphaTauri in De Vries’s place was already a long shot, being positioned behind Ricciardo in the line could render it nearly unattainable, at least for the time being.
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