Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is keen to see if Daniel Ricciardo’s “extremely competitive” pace on the team’s Formula 1 simulator translates to his first on-track test with the team next month.
During a post-British Grand Prix tyre test, Ricciardo will get behind the wheel of a Red Bull car for the first time since he walked away from the team for Renault at the end of 2018.
Ricciardo – who won seven races with Red Bull and was comfortably Max Verstappen’s toughest Red Bull team-mate – had his reputation shattered by a dispiriting two-year McLaren stint that ended one year early last season.
He’d undergone such a change that when he first tried Red Bull’s simulator when he rejoined the team as its third driver for 2023, the team admitted to not even recognising Ricciardo as the driver it once employed.
But now Horner was full of praise for Ricciardo’s efforts on the simulator ahead of his first on-track test in the team’s RB19 at Silverstone.
“When he first arrived after Abu Dhabi last year, it was a little bit of a shock because we didn’t really recognise him from the driver that had left us a few years earlier,” Horner reiterated when asked by The Race whether he was starting to look more like the Ricciardo Red Bull knew.
“But he seems to have re-found his mojo, he’s been working hard on the simulator, he’s now extremely competitive in what he’s doing in the virtual world.
“So whether that crosses over into the real world, we’ll see, albeit at a tyre test, we’ll get the impression as to the level that he’s performing at.
“But certainly you can see that there is a spring coming back in his step.”
Ricciardo is only attending around seven grands prix this year with a host of off-track commitments – including providing alternative commentary for the Canadian GP – but Horner says he’s played a significant role back at Red Bull’s factory.
“He’s done a pretty decent amount of mileage,” Horner explained.
“I mean, he’s done- pretty much most of the races that he’s not been attending, he’s been back in the factory supporting on the sim.
“So he’s thrown himself into that and been giving very valuable feedback.”
Ricciardo has been linked to Nyck de Vries’ AlphaTauri seat, speculation that has intensified in the wake of the door being potentially opened for a mid-season swap.
However, The Race understands that Super Formula driver Liam Lawson is currently the favourite to replace De Vries should Red Bull make a change.
“It’s still very early days for next year, and Daniel is under contract for the year, he’s going to be driving our car for the first time after the British Grand Prix,” Horner said when asked about the possibility.
“And he’s obviously a world-class driver, he’s won, what, seven grands prix [with Red Bull and an eighth with McLaren] in his career to date.
“I think the first thing will be to see how he performs and where his motivation is. And then from there it’s a question for AlphaTauri as to their choices for the following season.”