As many readers are probably aware of, Daniel Ricciardo has had a rough time in Formula 1 since 2021, being axed from McLaren before being signed up as Red Bull’s reserve driver. That role was where many (including myself) believed he would stay at least for the 2023 season considering Helmut Marko’s comments on Ricciardo’s marketing value. But no, Ricciardo is back on the grid replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri.
Marko confessed that he and Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, disagreed over de Vries signing based on his standout performance at Monza replacing Alex Albon for Williams. Marko admitted he had been proven wrong after a less than great 10 races for the Dutchman.
This whole thing feels indicative of Red Bull’s short term decision-making as it pertains to drivers, from de Vries initial signing to Ricciardo’s replacing him after running simulator sessions for the team. Both seem to be risky and hasty decisions.
Think about it, Ricciardo has had two years of poor racing, so bad that McLaren cut his contract short. Is simulator work really a good enough reason to bring him back? Or was his solid performance during the Pirelli tyre test just that convincing? Didn’t they make their decision surrounding de Vries based on a similarly small sample size?
De Vries isn’t an inexperienced driver, he’s won the Formula E title, but he also defended that title quite poorly against Stoffel Vandoorne, so that should have been a red flag for Red Bull.
Why Sack de Vries Midway Through the Season?
Red Bull are notoriously ruthless with their drivers and part of the rebranding towards AlphaTauri was to become a “sister team rather than a junior” team but Red Bull juniors have struggled to find a footing on the grid since Max Verstappen. So why not give the seat to Liam Lawson after the end of the season to gauge whether he can take the second seat at Red Bull when he’s ready, especially if Sergio Perez continues performing poorly. Do they simply not have confidence in their junior program?
Considering that Red Bull has essentially already won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships for 2023, they may feel that now is the time to experiment with Ricciardo to see if he is a suitable replacement for Perez.
This kind of thinking is a luxury for a dominant team like Red Bull, but it lacks respect for AlphaTauri’s needs. Though it may not be as bad as all that if the plan is to replace Perez with Ricciardo in 2024, then AlphaTauri won’t suffer too much being still able to bring in Lawson after Ricciardo’s half year stint. That is if a much improved Yuki Tsunoda doesn’t make Ricciardo look slow because if that happens it will be the final nail in the coffin for Ricciardo’s F1 career.
Whatever the case may be, de Vries’ signing was a mess of Red Bull’s own making and the way they’ve gone about it has highlighted the team’s flaws when it comes to driver management for anyone other than Max Verstappen.
Whatever your opinion on Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon’s performance during their Red Bull stint, their sacking was not indicative of their talent as drivers as their post-Red Bull careers have shown. Red Bull need to take more time with developing their drivers and stop expecting every driver to be a mega-talent like Verstappen.