Daniel Ricciardo getting back on the Formula 1 grid with AlphaTauri is only happening because he thinks it is a way into Red Bull Racing again.
And any conversation about Red Bull’s driver line-up across its two teams and Ricciardo’s prospects must inevitably involve Sergio Perez.
The timing of Ricciardo’s return to the grid could not be worse for Perez given Perez’s current form.
He is struggling and has failed to make Q3 five races in a row, all the while Verstappen continues to dominate in the same car.
His latest qualifying setbacks have been particularly poor – three track limits offences in Q2 in Austria, losing all three laps and having to start the grand prix 15th, and getting knocked out in Q1 in Britain after doing a poor job in a late one-lap shootout after a red flag.
Red Bull’s frustration was obvious in Austria, which marked a clear shift in how it has previously shrugged off Perez’s underachievements, although the public votes of confidence have endured in both weekends.
Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner has said emphatically it would be wrong to suggest Perez could be replaced. He is under contract for next season after all.
In fact, in Austria, Horner made it emphatically clear that any talk otherwise is “wide of the mark”. Then in Britain last weekend he said: “He’s the type of guy that just needs an arm around his shoulder and you work with him. And that’s what we’re doing.
“We’re supporting him. We know he can do it. We’ll know he’ll get back there and we’re just trying to make sure it happens as quickly as possible.”
This is in Red Bull’s interest, even if Perez isn’t costing the team anything except a few more trophies and a few more points. Verstappen keeps winning and both championships are secure already. But long-term Red Bull needs to be sure this doesn’t continue.
In Britain, where Perez had a low-key recovery to sixth, Perez said he knew he had the backing of Red Bull’s hierarchy.
“I couldn’t care less, if I’m honest, about that,” he said of speculation about his future and Ricciardo talk.
“I’ve been in Formula 1 for 13 years and I’ve seen it all.
“I’m not worried about any of that, and I’m mainly focused on getting my season on track and making sure I keep enjoying this.
“I have full support from Helmut [Marko] and Christian, the whole team is fully backing me and they know what I can do.
“They know my potential, and they are fully behind me.”
But the bare facts are that Perez is barely second in the championship in the best car by some distance, and now has just one podium in five races. And Ricciardo will inevitably see his ongoing struggles as the potential prising open of the door to a Red Bull Racing seat again.
That is the only reason he will have accepted an AlphaTauri drive in the middle of this season. The intention will be to prove to Red Bull that Ricciardo’s McLaren struggles were exactly that – McLaren struggles.
If he performs well against Yuki Tsunoda (really, he needs to adjust quickly and beat him more often than not) it will go a long way to showing Ricciardo can be the force he once was.
Getting back on the grid is the best way to make that case. But AlphaTauri is nothing more than a means to an end.
Even then, crowbarring his way back in alongside Verstappen at the senior team is going to require a seriously impressive performance – and it’ll require Perez’s poor qualifying to spiral into something a lot more dramatic.
But whether it’s next year, or for 2025, Ricciardo’s target is now clear: taking that second Red Bull Racing seat.