The admission last month that Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner had reservations about Nyck de Vries’s AlphaTauri Formula 1 deal from the outset felt like one of the worst omens for De Vries’ already tenuous situation in the Red Bull organisation.
Horner’s sentiment was first reported second-hand via Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, the man who made the case for De Vries after he starred as a stand-in for Alex Albon at Williams in last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
And Horner’s first interview since De Vries was dropped last week in favour of Daniel Ricciardo made clear that Marko certainly hadn’t misrepresented Horner’s stance on De Vries. If anything he might have underplayed it.
Horner’s remarks on F1’s in-house F1 Nation podcast were diplomatic and fairly respectful but with a very firm undertone that signing De Vries was a mistake that had needed rapid correction.
The most telling comment was Horner’s response to host Tom Clarkson asking if there had been any consideration given to at least letting De Vries stay on until his home race – the Dutch Grand Prix that kicks off the second half of the season after the summer break in late August.
“That would have meant obviously leaving him in the car until after the summer break,” said Horner.
“I think the situation was clear.
“It was a question of ‘OK, what’s the point in waiting?’
“If we’re going to do something, we may as well get on with it and give Daniel 12 races to see what he’s capable of.”
Earlier in the episode, Horner had replied with a very quick “yes” when asked to confirm that he’d always had reservations about bringing De Vries into the Red Bull fold.
Horner’s main objection had been that detouring to a driver who was 27 years old going into this season and part of the Mercedes F1 system as a reserve across its teams was an odd fit for a company with a vast junior driver programme and focus on developing talent through it.
“Look, Nyck is a very capable driver, a Formula E champion, a Formula 2 champion, he’s obviously got a lot of experience, he’s not a young driver as such from an age perspective,” said Horner.
“And I just didn’t see how it fitted within the junior programme. It was almost a stopgap.”
Given De Vries had won a Formula E world title with Mercedes, raced extensively in LMP2, tested Mercedes’ F1 cars and run in Friday practice sessions for it, Aston Martin and Williams before his F1 debut, Horner felt he should have been able to hit the ground running in F1 this season.
“There was a high expectation on him, because while inexperienced in Formula 1 he is obviously a very experienced driver,” he said.
“And I think there was a general feeling that Nyck wasn’t quite hitting the mark.”
The announcement that Ricciardo would replace De Vries from Hungary came on the day of Ricciardo’s first F1 test since his departure from McLaren, as he represented Red Bull in a Pirelli test at Silverstone.
Asked exactly how the decision was communicated, Horner said Marko picked up the phone to De Vries at a time that suggested Red Bull didn’t need to see much from Ricciardo to know that it was done with De Vries.
“It all happened a little bit quicker than expected, bearing in mind that we hadn’t completed the test,” Horner admitted.
“Helmut spoke with Nyck, he was the one that obviously had recruited him, he was the one that spoke with Nyck on about lap 11 of the test, I think.”