It’s official: Nyck de Vries is out after just 10 grands prix for AlphaTauri in Formula 1, replaced by Daniel Ricciardo – who’s been sent ‘on loan’ by Red Bull to its second team.
While the end of the questions about his future that have hung around constantly since the early part of the season may provide De Vries some relief, it marks a big fall from grace under a year after Red Bull was so won over by a stand-in F1 debut that the decision was effectively made on the spot to hire him.
Was De Vries given long enough? What does this say about Ricciardo’s motivation? Is Red Bull’s call to install him just as big a gamble as the one it took going for De Vries? And was it right to forego the best-placed junior in its ranks?
Here are our writers’ thoughts:
Good on Ricciardo for the U-turn
It’s a strange move for both parties in the sense that this was possible late last year but it wasn’t workable then, yet it is now. But circumstances have changed.
Ricciardo has had some time out. He didn’t want to drive this season at first. But he’s hungry, really hungry, to get back and prove himself and that means looking at his options with a different perspective compared to years ago.
I’m impressed that Ricciardo is willing to do this. He could have slinked away, tail between his legs. He could have cashed in on his popularity and not bothered. He could have had a real ego problem and decided he was above going back to the second Red Bull team.
He hasn’t. He’s going for it. And that’s extremely fun to see, and will hopefully be fun to watch.
De Vries’ season doesn’t warrant this
De Vries’ ousting is a curious one because while he’s not been impressive enough to make it impossible to axe him, he’s hardly been the catastrophe that a driver would normally need to be to justify being axed after 10 races. That makes it difficult to make a forceful argument that the decision was either absolutely correct or horrendously unfair.
Perhaps that encapsulates the odd way he was recruited in the first place, filling a vacancy that wasn’t expected to be there by an organisation that had no interest in him before his star cameo for Williams at Monza. His place in the team was built on sand so it didn’t take much for him to be washed away.
De Vries’ peak pace was a little slower than team-mate Yuki Tsunoda’s and there were some patchy race stints among his 10 grand prix outings this year. But he wasn’t that slow and there were also some decent race stints. There were also some mishaps, most recently the clash with Kevin Magnussen in Canada then the penalty for forcing him off track in Austria that was down to the overtaking guidelines that disregard the risk inherent in an around-the-outside move.
The bottom line is that elite sport is supremely difficult and most fail. De Vries could have done better and had he performed at a higher level, with more of the peaks that his stint lacked even when you factor in the limitations of the car, then it’s very likely he would still have a race seat. Whether it would have lasted that much longer is another question.
And given it’s already been clear for some time that it was a question of when, rather than if, De Vries would be axed (although it happening this quickly seemed unlikely), you have to question the thinking that led to the recruitment of a driver the Red Bull group clearly had so little faith in in the first place.
OK it’s brutal, but why wait?
I understand the viewpoint that De Vries deserved a full season and that this is needlessly brutal.
But I don’t see what the Red Bull organisation had to gain by keeping him around for the rest of the year once it was obvious he was not a long-term solution for any of its problems.
And it does have problems – it hasn’t produced a sufficiently convincing talent from its junior pipeline since Max Verstappen (who wasn’t even a Red Bull talent really in the strictest sense, it just got in first to continue the work his father Jos had already done to get him ready to impress so much in Formula 3 straight out of karts), and Sergio Perez isn’t doing a good enough job in the senior team right now for Red Bull to be confident he’s what it needs next time Verstappen’s in a proper title fight.
Whether Ricciardo, Liam Lawson or someone Red Bull needs to poach from elsewhere (Lando Norris?) is the solution to that problem isn’t really the point. De Vries isn’t the solution, Red Bull needs to get on with finding out who might be and there’s no need to waste any time in doing so.
No guarantee this works out better
A fully rehabilitated Ricciardo, firing on all cylinders, is a tantalising prospect for Formula 1 – and for Red Bull.
Presumably, RBR and Helmut Marko are so convinced by what they’ve seen on their simulator, and maybe this morning’s tyre test too, they feel fully confident Ricciardo now represents a clear upgrade on De Vries. Marketing-wise, it doesn’t hurt either – given Ricciardo’s profile and popularity in the US.
It makes sense to try to apply some bottom-up pressure on Perez too, given his apparently chronic inability to extract the most from Red Bull’s RB19 on Saturdays.
But this is not the automatic slam dunk it would have been before 2021. There are major risks on both sides if Ricciardo isn’t able to perform to the expected level – indeed, expectations will be raised given his profile and pre-McLaren track record.
This is a driver who was getting shown the way by Verstappen at Red Bull, even before Norris made Ricciardo look properly second rate. This move also potentially massively alters a team dynamic in which Tsunoda was establishing himself as the focal point. Throwing a grand prix winner into that mix would automatically suggest a realignment, but can the team instinctively trust Ricciardo as a reference given the damage inflicted by his McLaren stint? And if he proves to be second best to Tsunoda, well then Ricciardo is toast…
These F1 cars are very different to the ones Ricciardo made his name in. They are super stiff, quirky, and with much harder tyres. The fact he admits he couldn’t feel things the 2022 McLaren was doing that Norris could, can only add to the concern. Doing well on the sim is just not the same.
In an ideal world, this turns out to be a Nico Hulkenberg-style renaissance (a driver Ricciardo was incidentally marginally quicker than when they were Renault team-mates in 2019). Equally, it could be little more than a Kimi Raikkonen-esque homecoming to the team where it all began, which turned out to be the farewell tour for a driver who had become by then something quite considerably less than when he started out.
Formula 1 always moves on. And you have to move with it. Ricciardo is clearly motivated again – but that might not be enough.
This snub won’t harm Lawson
Choosing Ricciardo over Lawson for the rest of this season makes sense. Red Bull gets a chance to get a real-world read on Ricciardo’s rehabilitation post-McLaren, and it doesn’t really harm Lawson in the process.
If Daniel flops, he can be taken out of AlphaTauri, and Lawson gets the gig full time next year. And if it goes well for Ricciardo, then Red Bull has options for what it does with the three seats it controls that aren’t filled by Verstappen.
You can never entirely predict what the Red Bull system will do when it comes to driver decisions, but you’d assume it’s not now-or-never for Lawson. If he keeps doing a good job, his time will come.
Ricciardo’s arrival was grounds for a De Vries divorce
The signing of Ricciardo always felt like the dagger in the back of De Vries’ F1 career, before it had really even begun.
I covered a few of De Vries’ junior seasons and his habit of taking a year or two to adapt to a new series is something at odds with the cut-throat nature of racing these days. He almost inevitably reaches a strong level given that time, but that’s not good enough for the sports world in general which demands immediate results these days.
It felt like there was never really a prevailing succession (or rather, replacement) plan for Tsunoda when he experienced his various difficult periods and encountered heavy pressure, whereas De Vries – an option Red Bull knew was older and further along in the career development process admittedly – has always had the simultaneous issue of the inevitability of taking longer to adapt than some of his peers and Red Bull having a driver way too good to be a reserve sat on the sidelines in Ricciardo.
This was always grounds for early divorce.
With AlphaTauri last in the constructors’ standings, and De Vries’ season not being that bad, it would be logical to wait and give him more time in the knowledge that he often comes good when he gets that backing and patience.
But this is the Red Bull junior programme, which gets way too much criticism sometimes given the number of opportunities it has provided to drivers that otherwise wouldn’t have had them, but is also cutthroat and prioritises a short-sighted approach in its decision-making.
This is perfectly reflected by the De Vries affair.
AlphaTauri is just an afterthought
“The ideal solution for our philosophy.”
Those were the words of the late Dietrich Mateschitz, upon the announcement that Red Bull had purchased Minardi and would have a second F1 team, in respect of a desire for Toro Rosso to be the junior branch to develop its young drivers.
Times change, and so do people’s positions almost two decades down the line. The AlphaTauri rebrand of 2020 was in part to reposition it as a “sister team rather than a junior team”, in Christian Horner’s words.
But the move to replace De Vries with Ricciardo shows that AlphaTauri is just an afterthought.
The junior team tag is one that AlphaTauri has struggled to shake, and that’s complicated by the fact that Red Bull hasn’t exactly eased off the throttle in supporting prospective juniors. It surely has an end goal of F1 in mind for its brightest prospects, such as Lawson, still.
Whether or not you believe now’s the right time to pluck him from a title-challenging Super Formula campaign, snubbing him means that its development focus is being ignored.
And that’s without considering De Vries’ position, or rather the pertinence of team principal Franz Tost’s opinion on drivers in such situations: that it takes years to adjust to F1. Going against that logic serves to underline the point.
And even if you look past that and subscribe to the view this is no longer a junior entity but a sister one, and accept that the relationship is going to be tiered, it’s failing there too.
Part of the motivation for installing Ricciardo at AlphaTauri has to be about assessing his suitability compared to Perez, a decision made with the senior team’s needs in mind. That’s a luxurious – and enviable – position to be in, but it hardly smacks of respect for AlphaTauri’s needs.
Great Ricciardo opportunity is also a last-chance saloon
It’s easy to see why Ricciardo has jumped into De Vries’ shoes at the earliest opportunity. He wants to be back racing, and racing at the top level. His issue is that he needs to prove to Red Bull that he still has what it takes to fight for wins and titles.
In some ways, this move could do just that. Joining AlphaTauri gives Ricciardo a unique opportunity to shape a team around him, even if it is only for the short-term.
While Red Bull might question his ability to get into a title fight, AlphaTauri will have no such worries, knowing that given the right car he is more than capable of scoring points and that’s all it needs to aim for – so it makes sense for it to focus developments for the remainder of the year on his advice.
And so, Ricciardo can be an outright team leader. And if he can make it work and get the best out of the car he should quickly start overachieving relative to what the AlphaTauri is capable of.
Doing so will answer any lingering questions about his ability, no doubt making him a shoo-in for Red Bull if it decides to turn its back on Perez at the end of the season.
But if he can’t make it work – even with AlphaTauri prioritising him – then yet more questions have to be asked, and you have to wonder whether his spell as an F1 driver really is over.
Red Bull’s treating its ‘family’ wrong
Well, well, well. Red Bull has done it again.
Unfair, brutal, unjust, ruthless. Whichever word you choose, I think how Red Bull treats its ‘family’ is wrong. It took only a few races for speculation about De Vries’ future with AlphaTauri to begin, how is that OK? It’s not uncommon for F1 rookies to struggle across the entire season, let alone their opening 10 races, and many of them require at least one year to get settled in and develop.
But there seems to be an expectation for every rookie to jump in and be a Verstappen or a Lewis Hamilton. It doesn’t work like that.
I’m disappointed that AlphaTauri couldn’t give De Vries an entire season in a car that isn’t exactly winning races, nor one that’s even considered a midfield car. I’m not naive, F1 is a cut-throat business, and his zero-point tally certainly doesn’t earn the big bucks. But neither do Tsunoda’s two points and he’s been driving brilliantly this season, as much as the car allows.
Which takes me to Ricciardo. I’m thrilled to see him back on the grid, and I do not doubt that he’ll push that car to the absolute maximum, whatever that may be. But he’s definitely there to warm up and get back in the swing of things – potentially before replacing Perez next season or, at the very least, as a force to make Perez perform to the standard Red Bull expects.
If that’s the case, De Vries didn’t stand a chance, no matter how he performed.
A hot mess of Red Bull’s making
Everything about this move sounded speculative and silly from the start, and it stems all the way back to the attempted Colton Herta hijacking last year.
The circumstances of De Vries’ emergency stand-in cameo at Williams were bound to reflect on him favourably. Williams has always gone well at Monza due to its aero balance, the field got jumbled up due to a mass of power unit penalties, and he had nothing to really lose reputation-wise.
Hiring him based on that, when a better indication would have been his poor Formula E title defence when he was outclassed by Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, should have been a red flag warning that De Vries wasn’t the best option available.
De Vries has been unlucky that Tsunoda’s genuine improvement has only made a difficult task that much harder. But his status as a proven world champion elsewhere and with so much top-level motorsport experience behind him created expectations for what was still an F1 rookie season that only made his already short leash even shorter. This all felt inevitable and avoidable.
Ricciardo was always going to be a golden carrot in this scenario. His McLaren run was a disaster but his time at Renault was excellent, especially his superb 2020 season. If AlphaTauri can unlock the best of his ability, adding in his commercial value, then the Red Bull umbrella can’t lose. Especially given both titles are more or less wrapped up – it can afford to experiment. But AlphaTauri is the worst team in F1 this season and it’s going to be hard to stand out in a very rough climate.
It’s a hot mess, completely of Red Bull’s making. And I’ve not even mentioned Perez in all of this…