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Formula 1

How worried should Ricciardo really be about losing his F1 seat?

by Scott Mitchell-Malm, Edd Straw
8 min read

Daniel Ricciardo finally gets the new chassis he’s been waiting for at the Chinese Grand Prix, a race in which he seriously needs to kickstart his Formula 1 season.

The RB driver’s first four races have been underwhelming but not exactly low-key given his status, the expectation around his full F1 comeback this year and plenty of talk about his long-term prospects of a Red Bull Racing return.

Ricciardo is one of seven drivers yet to score a point so far, partly because RB is in a group of teams feeding off the scraps left by a clear block of five that are dominating the point-scoring positions when everything goes as expected.

That said, Ricciardo’s team-mate Yuki Tsunoda has done an excellent job and is decidedly not one of those seven drivers. He’s scored seven points and been in the top 10 in the last two races, outqualified Ricciardo at every event and – were it not for a team order in Bahrain – would be winning 4-0 on finishes too.

Being second-best to Tsunoda, repeatedly raising concerns about whether there might be a hidden problem with his car, and showing the occasional sign of complete bafflement about why he cannot get the speed out of it that Tsunoda can (a la his McLaren days against Lando Norris), has rapidly warped the Ricciardo narrative.

It is no longer ‘is he a threat to Sergio Perez for a Red Bull seat in 2025’. It is ‘could Ricciardo lose his own RB seat – and could he lose it during the season’. And though he is not panicking, there is at least some cause for concern, especially if he does not start to turn things around in Shanghai.


There has been speculation that Ricciardo has some kind of ultimatum to improve by the Miami Grand Prix, which follows two weeks after China, or be replaced by Red Bull reserve Liam Lawson.

This seems to have spawned from Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko being a big fan of Lawson whereas Ricciardo’s return to the grid last year with RB (then AlphaTauri) was driven more by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

It is entirely possible that the drivers end up as pawns in a wider power struggle within Red Bull. Marko has been verbally putting pressure on Ricciardo to up his game, and at the same time, rumours surfaced in the paddock that Lawson was being lined up as a possible alternative after next month’s Miami Grand Prix.

In the lead-up to China, Marko ramped up his rhetoric when speaking to Austria's Kleine Zeitung, refusing - and pretty bluntly at that - to rule out a mid-season swap. "We obviously have in Liam Lawson as our reserve driver a strong driver in the team, who is contractually free to race for another team if he doesn't get a seat with us in 2025. In this regard it would of course be fascinating for us if we could see him already in F1 this year, to give ourselves an even clearer picture.

"But this is a complex topic, one must wait and see how it goes."

All that is probably not a coincidence. However, The Race understands no ultimatum has been put to Ricciardo or his team. He is acutely aware, for obvious reasons, that this has been a disappointing start to the year and that he cannot afford to be in a permanent state of ‘just needing to put it together’.

But he said on Thursday in Shanghai “there’s no additional pressure from ‘s**t, am I gonna have a seat next weekend?’ or anything”.

“I know that we’re not where we want to be,” Ricciardo said. “But we kind of keep going back to each other like ‘we’re on the path, we know what we’re doing’.

“I haven’t had a great start of the season. But I’m also not a rookie that’s trying to establish myself in the sport and prove something.

“Obviously, I do have a track record, there is some proof there that I can do it. And the team believes this and knows I can. So it’s just trying to clean it all up and making sure that we can get it.

“I don’t want this to take a whole year and I don’t expect it to because I’m not a rookie, so I’ve got experience, and that should also speak for something.

“But it’s not like I’m trying to kind of show them something that they haven’t seen yet. We’re just trying to get me in a place where I feel like I can deliver.”

The rookie reference and throwback to Ricciardo’s CV is interesting. It could be interpreted as a simple argument: ‘I’ve had lots of success in the past so that should keep me safe.’ But that is not quite what Ricciardo’s saying.

He knows he cannot trade on his Red Bull wins (the last of which came six years ago) indefinitely or keep pointing to that 2021 McLaren victory as proof he can still do the job. He also knows that his last complete, excellent season in 2020 with Renault is a long time ago now in F1 terms.

His argument is more framed as ‘Red Bull and RB know what I’m capable of at my best’. It’s an important distinction between his known peak (even if there are doubts he can recapture it) and a rookie whose actual level is unknown.

That can easily lead teams to wonder if it is worth persevering with a driver if the peak isn’t going to be that impressive anyway. What Ricciardo's past glories achieve is affording him some extra time before that conclusion is drawn.


The prospect of an in-season swap has to be taken seriously if Ricciardo fails to perform primarily because of who he is driving for.

Red Bull’s ruthlessness with drivers, and willingness to move them in and out of play as it sees fit, is what got Ricciardo his return from the sidelines in mid-2023 in the first place. Is there any fear of Ricciardo suffering the same fate as his predecessor De Vries?

“There isn’t,” Ricciardo insisted. “I mean look, anything can happen. So I’m also not naive.

“But I haven’t had any indication of that.

“And I think they know, it probably goes back to maybe what I’ve done in the past, but I think even last year I showed signs of speed and everything.

“Maybe I didn’t always show it with McLaren, so we felt like we got that back out of me.

“For whatever reason it hasn’t quite been there to its fullest so far this year but I think they know it’s there and also what we’re doing on the sim they can see that it’s there.

“So we’ve just now got to put it together.”

Red Bull had indeed picked Ricciardo up as a third driver following his premature McLaren exit at the end of 2022 and saw the seat at its second team as a great way to judge what caliber of driver he could still be.

The evidence of 2023 was inconclusive because Ricciardo’s return was disrupted by the injury sustained in practice at Zandvoort, which put him back on the sidelines again and gave Lawson an unexpected opportunity to impress over a five-race run.

But he did peak extraordinarily well in Mexico where he qualified fourth and finished seventh, and it’s moments like that which Ricciardo and the team cling to.

This season has not had such a result, or anything close to it. Even a lowly points finish would suffice right now.

The China weekend is complicated by many factors – F1’s back after five years away, and it’s a sprint weekend – but there is inevitably pressure on Ricciardo to produce a result sooner rather than later. Especially as he finally has that chassis change he’s been waiting for, despite RB never finding anything wrong with the old one, which one way or the other will eliminate a last lingering potential excuse for his form.

“I’ve been quite vocal about it,” he said. “Because I’ve been obviously struggling a bit this year.

“It was always the plan to have to introduce that chassis here. I was obviously just putting my hand up - ‘whenever it’s ready, I’ll take it’.

“It’s one little box just to tick now and make sure that we’re all OK, and [give me] peace of mind.”

The view from the paddock

Edd Straw

Ricciardo was his usual breezy self in the Shanghai paddock, to an extent at least.
He wasn’t someone with the weight either of the world of expectation on his shoulders, but his upbeat answers and positivity was perhaps a little more carefully framed than Ricciardo at his most relaxed.

Regardless of what has been said behind the scenes, he will know full well that there are doubts over his future in that seat. Any driver in Red Bull machinery who is underperforming will inevitably be at some level of risk, with Ricciardo getting this opportunity in the first place when de Vries made room for him.

Ricciardo is clearly pinning his confidence to the belief that he can deliver. Any struggles this season are dwarfed by comparison to his far deeper troubles when at McLaren but he knows he needs at least to get to Tsunoda’s level in order to put questions about his future to bed.

So perhaps the best way to describe Ricciardo is "subtly defiant", reining himself in very slightly rather than going ‘the full Ricciardo’ with familiar freewheeling jokey answers.

That reflects the fact he genuinely feels there’s more progress to be made, and with some justification given the previous race in Japan hinted at some progress. Ricciardo qualified extremely close to Tsunoda in lap time and grid position but a careless first-lap crash put paid to any chance of building on that in the grand prix.

He's right to take this attitude. After all, his future is in his hands. Perform and suddenly there will be no more questions.

Ricciardo backs himself to do just that. The questions are can he follow through with it, and what happens if he doesn't?

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