The inside story on how Ricciardo’s F1 return was accelerated

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With the breaking news of Daniel Ricciardo making his highly anticipated Formula 1 return with AlphaTauri for the remainder of the season, we break down the factors which led to Nyck De Vries’ ousting from the Red Bull junior team after just ten races.

Daniel Ricciardo pictured in the Red Bull garage with Christian Horner at the Pirelli tyre test in Silverstone
Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool
How did we get here?

AlphaTauri today confirmed the heavily rumoured news that Daniel Ricciardo would replace Nyck De Vries at the team mid-season, although much sooner than expected, with the popular Aussie taking up his position with the team “with immediate effect”.

A mid-season seat swap is straight out of Red Bull’s wheelhouse, as we have seen repeatedly in recent years, but how was the decision made to replace former Formula E champion Nyck De Vries after just ten races? A key factor in the decision is no doubt his poor results so far in 2023, failing to beat his more experienced teammate Tsunoda on eight out of ten occasions.

When the Dutchman failed to improve his performances on tracks which he is familiar with, and having been warned by Red Bull’s head of driver development Helmut Marko, the decision was made to replace him with another Red Bull driver waiting in the wings. It’s believed that simulator comparisons between De Vries, Ricciardo and Tsunoda played a key role in the decision.

With options such as Liam Lawson available, why was Ricciardo chosen?

Having departed McLaren on less-than-ideal terms at the end of the 2022 season, Ricciardo returned to Red Bull, signing up as reserve and development driver for the world champions. Having determined Ricciardo could still produce competitive lap times on the simulator, it was clear he was a valuable asset to the team should they need to call on him as a reserve.

Rumours suggest a number of factors led to Red Bull placing Ricciardo in the now-vacant AlphaTauri seat over Liam Lawson. One source suggests sponsor opinion influenced the decision, as Ricciardo is seen as more marketable and potentially key to AlphaTauri’s planned rebranding.

Lawson’s ongoing title battle in Japanese Super Formula, where he currently holds P2 in the championship standings, also helped to sway the decision towards Ricciardo. This also allows Lawson to finish his season and continue his development as a driver, which may have proved more difficult in the uncompetitive AlphaTauri AT04.

Daniel Ricciardo sits into the RB19
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
Why did Ricciardo accept a seat at the struggling AlphaTauri?

While Ricciardo’s ultimate goal is to fight for wins and championships in Formula 1, step one is to get back behind the wheel. It’s likely that had he not accepted the seat, Red Bull would have placed Lawson alongside Tsunoda and potentially dashed Ricciardo’s hopes of a full-time return to the sport.

While his return to Formula 1 will be difficult, due to his time away and without any running in the AT04, the Aussie has regained his confidence having endured a brutal two-year stint at McLaren. Having decided with his management to accept the offer, an arrangement was made today ahead of his run in the RB19 for the Pirelli tyre test in Silverstone.

What does this mean for the future of Red Bull?

It is believed that Ricciardo’s performance for the remainder of the 2023 season will play a key role in deciding the future of both Red Bull and AlphaTauri. Lawson is set to join AlphaTauri should Ricciardo not meet expectations, while Red Bull will attempt to secure an alternative seat for the Kiwi should Ricciardo stay with AlphaTauri.

It’s heavily rumoured that Lawson is guaranteed a seat at AlphaTauri for the 2025 season should all else fail. While Marko has noted Red Bull does not have a replacement available for Sergio Perez at Red Bull, this move surely puts pressure on the Mexican driver with Ricciardo hungry for a return to a competitive team.