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Formula 1

Five things to expect from Ricciardo’s F1 comeback

by Matt Beer
6 min read

Any mid-season Formula 1 driver line-up change is a big story.

But when it involves a multiple grand prix winner who fell off the grid after a massive performance downturn and has now got a chance to make amends by rejoining one of his first F1 teams in a deal that could lead him back to the now-dominant team he made his name with nearly a decade ago, and that driver also happens to be one of the most marketable personalities on the grid… well that’s an even bigger story.

Here are five things Ricciardo should expect from his return at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix with AlphaTauri.

A Netflix and media whirlwind

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

It’s hard to imagine many scenarios in which a mid-ranking driver from one season would be met with a media whirlwind halfway through the next while driving for a backmarker. But that’s what faces Ricciardo in Hungary.

He will be met with cameras everywhere he goes. Whatever he says and does will be under a lot of scrutiny. The Netflix crew will be all over his comeback and there will be intense media interest throughout the weekend.

The Race will be no exception because Ricciardo has been a lightning rod for our audience for the last week and he will be the story of the Hungarian GP.

Interest in his comeback may quickly fade, especially if he’s as unremarkable as he was at McLaren. But he is an extremely popular driver, at his peak he is a phenomenally good one too, and the simple fact is a mid-season driver change is a great story.

There’s unlikely to be this much focus all season on someone who has such a good chance of getting knocked out in Q1! – Scott Mitchell-Malm

A car that won’t give him what he needs

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Practice Day Silverstone, England

The AlphaTauri AT04 is not just an uncompetitive car, but one that is tricky to drive. That’s not just for Ricciardo, but also Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries.

The car has been dogged by late-entry instability in the lower-speed corners. That then turns into understeer mid-corner and makes it a tricky car for the drivers to be completely confident in when in the time-sapping slower turns.

Any driver would find those limitations irritating but the question for Ricciardo is whether they in any way undermine his confidence in the corner entry. For slightly different reasons, this was among his McLaren problems so even though the way the limitations manifest themselves is different in the AlphaTauri, what’s clear is it’s not a well-balanced car that allows the driver to attack the entries wholeheartedly.

That’s not necessarily a problem and Ricciardo has thrived in cars that have had an imperfect balance before. But much depends on the initial entry characteristics. We will only start to see how he gets on with those in FP1 in Hungary. – Edd Straw

No time to digest what’s happening

F1 Grand Prix Of Hungary Previews

There are two similar elements that make the back-to-back races in Hungary and Belgium quite the baptism of fire for Ricciardo.

It’s an awkward pair of races with slightly different formats: the qualifying experiment in Hungary with mandated compounds in each segment, then a sprint weekend in Belgium. That means the usual rhythm of a grand prix weekend is disrupted, it’s a slightly more complex challenge, and the opportunity to learn is reduced.

Similarly, two races in two weekends means little chance to digest what happens at the Hungaroring and apply any lessons at Spa.

Ricciardo will be learning on the fly and need to adjust quickly, otherwise he could easily find himself in the summer break reeling from a quickfire one-two punch of challenging races.

The flip side of that is if it goes well, this is a great chance for Ricciardo to build momentum going into the break, then take a step back and dig into the specifics of each weekend with a bit more breathing space to come out swinging in the second half of the season. – SMM

Massive commercial attention regardless of how he does

Xpb 1197071 Hires

It’s been frankly remarkable how much media and commercial attention Ricciardo has commanded while not even being a racing driver this season.

He’s seriously in-demand and whether it’s a small or a large factor, that has played into the decision to place him at AlphaTauri because he’s a great driver to help that team off-track over the rest of the season.

Ricciardo will be a popular figure at any race (we saw that whenever he cropped up as a Red Bull reserve, in Australia and Miami for example) but imagine the scenes when he arrives in Austin and Las Vegas.

Apart from Lewis Hamilton, Ricciardo is F1’s most bankable commodity Stateside. He’s legitimately famous. It’s not forced. And having him present as a race driver for those events is going to be worth an intangible amount to the Red Bull brands and to F1 as a whole.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Preparation Day Austin, Usa

That’ll almost certainly be the case whether this comeback goes well on-track or not.

So if Ricciardo’s enduring popularity while sitting on the sidelines has come as a surprise, now he’s got a race seat again you should expect a sustained level of attention and borderline hero-worship at some F1 races regardless of what he’s achieving. – SMM

A legacy-defining last chance saloon

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Ricciardo’s McLaren stint was bad enough to end his F1 career. Had De Vries flown rather than faltered at AlphaTauri, who is to say Ricciardo would have ever raced in F1 again?

Of course, ultimately De Vries did fail and Ricciardo got a reprieve but this has to be the very last chance saloon, not just for his continuing career within F1 but to save his legacy.

His legacy as the man who disposed Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s quickest team-mate is safe but his McLaren stint really drags down the case for him being classified amongst the best F1 drivers without a title.

Succeed at AlphaTauri and his McLaren misery will look more like a specific anomaly. Fail and it will begin to look like a pattern – Ricciardo was quick and successful within a particular era of F1 but he failed to demonstrate the adaptability needed to sustain his success outside of that.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Ricciardo gets on. There are really only two ways this plays out. Either AlphaTauri is his final destination in F1 and he slips off the grid for good within the next 18 months, or he succeeds and retakes his place at Red Bull and has an even bigger shot at restoring his legacy. – Josh Suttill

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