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Formula 1

Red Bull admits Ricciardo wants to take Perez’s seat

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
8 min read

Daniel Ricciardo believes his Formula 1 comeback with AlphaTauri is the best way to eventually take Sergio Perez’s Red Bull Racing seat, team boss Christian Horner has admitted.

Red Bull’s senior team has loaned Ricciardo to sister outfit AlphaTauri for the remainder of this season, replacing Nyck de Vries.

It is a surprise mid-year comeback for Ricciardo, who joined Red Bull as its third driver for 2023 after agreeing an early end to his McLaren contract.

Rejoining the grid with a backmarker team, which AlphaTauri is in 2023, goes against Ricciardo’s previous declarations that he would only be interested in securing a competitive seat.

And Horner has now confirmed that Ricciardo just sees this as a means to an end, with a seat at Red Bull Racing alongside Max Verstappen his ultimate goal.

PEREZ’S SEAT IN SIGHT

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Qualifying Day Silverstone, England

Verstappen and Perez are under contract for next season and Horner has repeatedly stated that both drivers will remain at Red Bull Racing in 2024.

And at least for now, Ricciardo’s ambition is being talked about in the context of replacing Perez in 2025.

That is when Perez’s contract expires, while Horner says Red Bull has no plans at all for Ricciardo beyond 2023.

Ricciardo was signed to a one-year deal for his off-track Red Bull role and his AlphaTauri move is only in place to the end of the season. But Horner does reckon this is part of a long-term play from Ricciardo.

“There’s no thoughts or expectations beyond that,” Horner said on F1’s Hungarian GP preview episode of the F1 Nation podcast.

“We’ve loaned him to AlphaTauri to the end of the year. Obviously, our drivers are going to be Max and Checo again next year, but it’s always good to have talent in reserve.

“I think [the way] Daniel is viewing AlphaTauri, he firmly wants to be pitching for that 2025 Red Bull.

Daniel Ricciardo

“That’s his golden objective. And by going to AlphaTauri, I think he sees that as his best route of stating his case for 2025.”

Unless Red Bull loses faith in Perez or is somehow convinced in the next few months that Ricciardo is a clear upgrade, there is at least a clear intent to honour Perez’s contract.

That will never be a guarantee of anything in F1 though, given how often – including within Red Bull – contracts do not run to their planned conclusion.

But while any current thinking about Ricciardo getting back his place alongside Verstappen might be predominantly coming from his side, given Horner says “he was prepared to take a step backwards to try and take two steps forwards”, Red Bull does want to establish how good an option Ricciardo is long-term.

Horner has also made it clear that properly evaluating Ricciardo was a key part of its thinking for giving him De Vries’s seat over someone like junior driver and Super Formula title contender Liam Lawson.

Even though Lawson would naturally be a better fit for what is still to all intents and purposes a Red Bull training ground, Horner said evaluating Ricciardo was “the most interesting option” from a Red Bull Racing perspective.

In the meantime, though, Perez appears to retain Red Bull’s full support. Even though he acknowledges Ricciardo’s ultimate ambition, Horner does not want to directly address the prospect of Ricciardo as a potential Perez replacement.

It was telling that when asked what Perez would think when he sees Ricciardo, Horner instead answered specifically about Perez’s recent form and stressed the priority of helping end his run of five consecutive failures to make Q3 in qualifying and get his season back on track.

“Some of that has been bad luck, some of it’s been a little self-inflicted,” Horner said.

“We’re just trying to help him through that period. He’s still second in the world championship. He’s won two grands prix so far out of the 10 this year, and he started the season in such great form.

“We just want to help him rediscover that form.”

THE TEST PERFORMANCE

Ricciardo Pirelli Test 1

Ricciardo’s return was announced before his participation in a Pirelli tyre test for Red Bull Racing had even finished at Silverstone last week.

The narrative that emerged since then suggested that the test was the deciding factor, as it confirmed Red Bull’s feeling that Ricciardo did have something to offer after his bruising two-year stint with McLaren.

Horner described Ricciardo’s test performance as “extremely impressive” and doubled down on some claims that circulated afterwards, that Ricciardo’s pace was good enough to qualify on the front row of the grid at the British Grand Prix.

“It was a little bit like we tested him 10 years ago,” Horner said, comparing it to when Ricciardo was vying for a Red Bull Racing drive for 2014.

“We were looking at who was going to be the right person to replace Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen was one of the favourites at that point.

“What impressed me the most I went up to have a look at the test [last week] was, bearing in mind he hasn’t been in a car for seven months, within his third or fourth lap, he was down to a time that was within a second of what our drivers were achieving.

“Then his first proper run, as it were, on tyres that were comparable, you could see his confidence was growing and growing.

Daniel Ricciardo

“And that ‘first’ lap, on probably what was his seventh lap on the day, would have put him on the front row of the grid. So that was hugely impressive.”

There are some obvious question marks over that assertion.

It is logical that Pirelli’s run plan required some qualifying simulations, so the team would have been aware of the fuel load and that it was likely to involve the softest available compound.

But the team does not dictate car set-up, track conditions would be different to the grand prix weekend, and much more importantly the tyre compounds in development are not the same so that means a potentially very wide range of performance.

Inevitably, any talk of laptimes and where it would or wouldn’t have put Ricciardo on the British GP grid would be subject to a big adjustment based on an estimation of how different the circumstances were compared to qualifying.

It makes laptimes a red herring, and most likely is just a way to add a competitive justification to a decision Red Bull clearly wanted to make anyway (De Vries out, Ricciardo in) and maybe give Ricciardo a bit of a boost too.

“I was just pleased to see that he was still able to operate at that level,” said Horner.

“I mentioned to him ‘that would have put you on the front row of the grid’, and you could see almost the relief in his eyes, it almost was like the pressure release off his shoulders, that he could still do it, that he wasn’t going mad, and the old Daniel was still there.

“Then his long runs were very impressive and the work that he did for Pirelli was absolutely on the money.”

WHAT’S EXPECTED

Ricciardo Pirelli Test 2

Regardless of the exact reasons behind the decision, or the timeline, or what it may or may not lead to in the future, the immediate upshot is Ricciardo’s back on the F1 grid this weekend.

And he’s returning in a worse car than the one he last raced with.

AlphaTauri has scored two points this season, both via Yuki Tsunoda. So to surpass his predecessor De Vries, Ricciardo has to do relatively little on paper.

Whether this car allows him to achieve much, and whether he can get on top of its limitations, are two significant factors in how well Ricciardo’s comeback goes.

That is something Red Bull was wary of when considering him. But Ricciardo left the decision-makers convinced he would at least satisfy the base requirement of being up for this challenge.

“First of all, it had to be clear, did he want to do it?” Horner said.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Qualifying Day Silverstone, England

“Stepping into an AlphaTauri is very different to driving a Red Bull car. And it will certainly have its challenges.

“The thing that we needed to be sure is was he up for that challenge, scrapping to get out of Q1?

“And he seemed more than happy to go back into that situation to get back on the grid and be a Formula 1 driver again.”

Ricciardo’s shift in circumstances, being out of F1, changed his perspective too. He most likely would not have taken any lower-midfield offer mid-season but one attached to Red Bull is obviously more appealing. And he’s clearly been hungry to return.

Having kept himself in good physical condition, Ricciardo handled the “baptism by fire” of completing around 100 laps of Silverstone in the RB19 without any apparent discomfort.

Horner semi-joked that Ricciardo didn’t need extra padding on his headrest, for example, and even though the Hungarian GP is usually a tough physical one Horner reckons Ricciardo will cope with that just fine.

Then it just comes down to performance. Matching Tsunoda, who is in the best form of his short F1 career and seems pretty well on top of a fairly weak car, may not come instantly.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

But while De Vries was dropped for falling short of that benchmark, Ricciardo seems to be being afforded an extra degree of care.

He is much more experienced and expectations will naturally be a lot higher. Horner talks as though the hard part has already been achieved, though, by rebuilding him from his McLaren nightmare.

“[In] the junior team, there are very high expectations, but Daniel isn’t a junior driver,” said Horner.

“He’s already proven himself in the time that he’s had with us.

“And therefore, it was just trying to make sure he rediscovered the form that we knew he was capable of.”

One tyre test does not really confirm Ricciardo has. The next few months will be a better indicator, starting with this weekend – where Ricciardo could start to discover how long the road to regaining a Red Bull Racing seat will be.

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