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Formula 1

What Marko's Lawson warning really means for Ricciardo

by Josh Suttill, Scott Mitchell-Malm
7 min read

Helmut Marko's assertion that a young driver like Liam Lawson should be in Red Bull's second Formula 1 team "soon" has inevitably put the spotlight firmly back on Daniel Ricciardo at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo is the last Red Bull race driver without a confirmed deal for 2025 and his F1 career hinges on whether Red Bull will retain him as Yuki Tsunoda's team-mate for next year.

So how did Ricciardo respond to Marko's comments, how big a threat is Lawson, and is he doing enough to save his seat?

'I'm the one in the car'

Ahead of the Austrian GP weekend, Red Bull motorsport advisor Marko told Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung that "the shareholders have made it clear that this is a junior team and we have to operate accordingly".

"The goal was that with exceptional performances he [Ricciardo] would be in the frame for Red Bull Racing. That seat now belongs to Sergio Perez, so that plan is void," added Marko.

"You have to put a young driver there soon. That would then be Liam Lawson."

Marko has long been a vocal supporter of Lawson and statements that are effectively hurry-ups for Ricciardo aren't anything new.

But as with every fresh Marko comment of this nature, it inevitably led to Ricciardo receiving a host of questions when he arrived at Red Bull's home race.

"I've become really good at not reading things so I actually didn't know about it until I was told when I got here," Ricciardo said.

"I don't feel one way or another about it. I still know that the overriding thing in this sport is performance; that's it. And that's what will give me my best chance of staying here, I know that. It's not going to be my smile or anything else, it's the on-track stuff.

"I've obviously got a good opportunity - I say until the summer break, I don't think that's a deadline but that's where you look at for the first half of the season. I'll try to do what I can and help my cause."

When The Race asked him if he'd had any internal pressure to improve, Ricciardo said: "No I haven't heard anything - there hasn't been any pressure, ultimatum, nothing like that.

"But I've been in the sport a long time, I know if I'm getting my ass kicked every weekend, at some point someone will be like, 'Hey mate, step it up, otherwise...' But I haven't had that.

"But I'm aware that having a good race every so often isn't good enough, but also is not where I want to be. I don't want to have an odd high and then a bunch of lows.

"I think I've had good support from, you mentioned Christian [Horner, Red Bull team boss] but [also] from Laurent [Mekies, RB team boss], from everyone.

"They're doing what they can, obviously, but at some point, I'm the one in the car and I've got to push that right throttle a bit harder, and that's that."

How real is the Lawson threat?

It would be easy to argue that Ricciardo finds himself in a similar situation to the driver he replaced last year, Nyck de Vries. He too is under pressure of losing his seat after being beaten by team-mate Yuki Tsunoda most weekends.

Ricciardo's peaks are certainly higher - the fourth in the Miami sprint and qualifying just under two tenths off pole in Montreal is astronomically better than anything De Vries produced - but that's offset by the higher expectations for a proven race winner like Ricciardo, who also has a better car at his disposal than the early-2023 AlphaTauri.

A Silverstone test in a Red Bull was critical to Horner and Red Bull deciding to axe De Vries two races before the summer break to give Ricciardo his return. So with Lawson set to complete a test in a 2022 AlphaTauri at Imola next month, is this history repeating itself?

"I believe it's been planned for a while but in any case, it's one of those ones where I think also the older you get you understand that [you can only] control the controllables," Ricciardo said.

"If Liam goes and has an amazing test, 100% good for Liam. I've got no control over that nor do I wish him poorly. Not at all.

"Currently I'm in the race seat so I've got to do everything I can to control the things I can and if I kick ass here, if I kick ass in Silverstone then I think the narrative can change.

"I obviously have to own that and be on top of what I can do. Qualifying fifth in Montreal made Helmut smile. If I can do that a few more times then I'm sure I can make him smile [again]. It's still so heavily on performance and yeah, I'll just keep focus on that."

De Vries certainly never had the kind of upward trajectory that Ricciardo's last couple of weekends have teased.

That - coupled with the same belief in Ricciardo that prompted Red Bull and Horner to give him a second chance last year - puts Ricciardo in a safer position, at least to survive a mid-season chop while his trajectory is pointed upwards.

No other options - but is his goal really 'void'?

Ricciardo's long made it clear he wants to finish his F1 career within the Red Bull family - and if he was axed he wouldn't have anywhere else to go. Carlos Sainz holds the key to vacancies at Sauber/Williams/Alpine for 2025 and Ricciardo doesn't appear to be a contender for any of those teams.

"I would say no," Ricciardo said when asked if he had other options.

"I don't know, but not to be stubborn or arrogant about it but I'm not looking anywhere else.

"I've said it, I really do enjoy being back in the family. I weirdly do enjoy sometimes a little bit of pokes from Helmut, because I think it can also be a way to get me a little bit fired up and try to get the best out of me. In short, no."

The whole purpose of Ricciardo's return was to perform well at RB and then usurp Perez as Max Verstappen's team-mate.

As Marko says that plan looks well and truly "void". Not just because Perez has been signed up for two more seasons but because Ricciardo's yet to get a decisive longer-term edge over Tsunoda.

A really tricky start to 2024 looked like it was turning around at Shanghai and in Miami - perhaps in part due to a hard-requested chassis change - but he was then bested by Tsunoda all weekend at Imola and in Monaco.

Then came the high watermark of Ricciardo's first proper comeback season, fifth on the grid and four points in the Canadian GP, something followed up by Ricciardo once again being RB's lead driver in Spain - even if the team discovered floor mounting bracket damage on Tsunoda's car post-weekend.

Ricciardo's banking on Montreal-Spain being the foundation for a consistent run of form, an absolute must if he's to retain his seat and maybe even turn that voided plan back into a possibility.

Perez has a new two-year deal, yes, but he's right in the thick of a miserable run of form in the senior team, something F1's tighter fight at the front is making even more damaging for Red Bull.

And that two-year deal is a one-year-plus-one, with performance clauses. it may well be reviewed at regular intervals, meaning Perez has to constantly justify his seat - he cannot simply turn up because that contract is actually no guarantee.

Should Ricciardo's upward trajectory lead to a sustained run of good performances and if Perez's slump starts costing Red Bull more ground in the constructors' championship, Ricciardo getting his dream senior team return cannot be ruled out. Red Bull would then be able to promote Lawson alongside Tsunoda with Perez eased out.

That remains a very distant prospect but a run of four races in five weekends can change the picture very quickly.

And nobody knows better than Ricciardo that there's a very thin line between Red Bull's ruthlessness making or breaking your career. It's down to him to make sure the axe swings in his favour.

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