The 2023 Formula 1 grid has missed one of the most successful drivers of the turbo-hybrid era. Daniel Ricciardo has been using his new role as Red Bull’s reserve driver to potentially push for a return to the grid via their junior team at AlphaTauri. But is there any real justification for Red Bull to bring back the Honey Badger?
It’s an interesting change of mentality from the veteran Australian. At the end of 2022, McLaren bought out the remaining year of Ricciardo’s contract, essentially paying him not to come to work anymore, replacing him with fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri who has objectively been closer on pace to Lando Norris than Ricciardo was. Ricciardo had offers to stay on the grid this year, with Haas making a serious offer for him to replace Mick Schumacher, but Ricciardo himself admitted the stress of F1 had gotten too much and he wanted to take a year out to weigh up his options.
But Ricciardo’s power in F1’s driver market is much less than it was. He left Red Bull for Renault in 2019 because he didn’t want to be a number two driver in a team that was clearly becoming Max Verstappen’s. And by turning down that offer from Haas for 2023, Ricciardo made a clear statement that he wasn’t prepared to just settle for any seat on the grid, and yet according to the latest press reports, Ricciardo’s dreaming of a Red Bull return, and is now prepared to drive for AlphaTauri to get there; the team that currently sits at the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship. So what’s changed?
We suspect it’s the state of AlphaTauri’s driver line-up and the struggles of rookie Nyck De Vries. Nyck isn’t your standard rookie, having won a Formula E World Championship in 2021. But that extra experience has only added to expectations that he should adapt more quickly to F1, especially with teammate Yuki Tsunoda entering 2023 under pressure after underperforming in his first two seasons. But the opposite has happened, with Tsunoda impressing in a difficult car, and De Vries struggling, trailing 6-2 in Qualifying and 7-1 in races so far this season.
And with the latest admission from Red Bull’s Helmut Marko that Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was never keen on De Vries in the first place, it only adds to the vulnerability surrounding his job. Plugging Daniel Ricciardo in (Who’s already had a seat fitting in Italy) is the easy solution should Red Bull decide enough is enough with De Vries. Rumours of an in-season swap were dismissed earlier in the season, but have never really gone away.
Sergio Perez’s dip in form has only increased the rumblings, having not finished on the podium since being outclassed in Miami. The Mexican (whose current deal lasts to the end of 2024) has failed to make Q3 and the podium in the past three races, including crashing at Monaco and revealing Red Bull’s trick floor layout to the world in embarrassing fashion. It’s probably just about OK while Red Bull is dominating like this, but in a closer championship fight Christian Horner would definitely want to see more from his second car.
As much as many fans would love to see The Honey Badger back and immediately given one of F1’s greatest ever cars, we think that’s pretty unlikely. Even before Red Bull’s bosses beefed over De Vries’ employment, Ricciardo was a viable option for AlphaTauri last year, but Dr Marko instead made an ambitious play to bring IndyCar star Colton Herta into F1, trying to get the FIA to change the Superlicence system to facilitate him. Not exactly a vote of confidence for Ricciardo, who Red Bull have admitted needs a lot of work on the simulator to untangle the bad driving habits he picked up during his failed McLaren stint.
Plus, there’s viable alternatives if Red Bull wants to move on quickly from De Vries. Liam Lawson is at the front of the queue for an F1 seat and is one of junior racing’s most versatile talents, boasting a winning record in F2, DTM and Super Formula. Red Bull also have Ayumu Iwasa impressing with his current form in F2. Franz Tost has always been keen on Mick Schumacher, the other high-profile reserve driver in the paddock, who is still only 24 and therefore much closer to the typical AlphaTauri driver profile
If Dr Marko wants to try to dip into the IndyCar well again, that championship’s best driver, McLaren reserve Alex Palou, has made no secret of wanting to fulfil his F1 ambition – even fighting a court battle with his current Indycar boss Chip Ganassi to ensure he could get more seat time in a McLaren F1 car last year.
If you’re Daniel Ricciardo, are you sure you really want to come back? If we take him at his word, he clearly found the back end of his time at McLaren stressful, and this is a man who clearly wants to embrace celebrity culture. Rolling up at fashion shows like the Met Gala, doing high-profile interviews, and even dabbling at broadcasting, hosting his own alternative commentary in Canada with Bojack Horseman’s Will Arnott. And many would agree, there’s no easier money than TV money!
And that’s what makes Daniel Ricciardo so confusing. He says he definitely wants to get back to the F1 grid, now via any means necessary, and there are potential ways back for him. But he’s also acting like a man who is preparing for life after F1. Either way, the popular Australian will most certainly be talked about, even if he isn’t actually in a car.
Do you think Daniel Ricciardo should still be in F1? And if not him, who should replace Nyck De Vries? Let us know in the comments, and if you enjoyed the video, be sure to subscribe!