If any other team were to dismiss their rookie driver before the halfway point of the season, it would surely cause a significant commotion in the world of Formula 1. However, the removal of de Vries from Red Bull’s secondary team, AlphaTauri, was met with a sense of inevitability, highlighting the company’s, particularly advisor Helmut Marko’s, well-known lack of patience when drivers fail to deliver.
Red Bull has a history of keeping a tight rein on its young talents. Daniil Kvyat, for instance, lasted only four races into the 2016 season at Red Bull before being replaced by Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen. Although Red Bull’s decision was vindicated by Verstappen’s subsequent success, both Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon had legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved by their experiences.
Gasly’s promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull lasted a mere 12 races in 2019 before he was sent back to Faenza. Albon, his replacement, also struggled to find his footing in a team and car centered around Verstappen, ultimately being dropped after a season and a half.
In contrast, Yuki Tsunoda represents a rare example of Red Bull’s nurturing patience. Despite struggling with consistency during his debut year, Tsunoda received the necessary support. After relocating from the UK to Faenza, the Japanese prodigy transformed his sporadic displays of speed into a more consistent presence. This progress earned him two consecutive contract extensions and now positions him as one of the standout drivers of the 2023 season, as perceived by several of his peers.
Considering this backdrop, de Vries’ dismissal appears particularly harsh. Despite a shaky start to his F1 career, the Dutchman had been steadily closing the gap to Tsunoda while grappling with the underperforming AT04 from AlphaTauri.
The 2023 car proved to be a disappointment from the moment of its unveiling, prompting team boss Franz Tost to openly criticize his own technical team in Saudi Arabia. Tost expressed a lack of trust in his engineers after they failed to deliver a vehicle that met the preseason expectations.
Given these circumstances, the timing of de Vries’ departure raises questions. If Red Bull acknowledges that he was dealt a poor hand, and with no apparent backlog of Verstappen-like junior drivers ready to replace him, why make the change now?
On one hand, Red Bull had hoped that de Vries’ extensive experience would translate into an instant success in F1. Although he may not have been the team’s initial choice (IndyCar star Colton Herta, who did not qualify for a Super Licence, held that position), his impressive cameo for Williams at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix convinced Marko to offer him the seat.
While Tsunoda was still relatively raw in his 2021 debut, having arrived in Europe from Japan only two years prior, de Vries boasted an impressive resume. Having secured titles in Formula 2 and Formula E, the 27-year-old had also served as Mercedes’ test and simulator driver. Marko and AlphaTauri hoped that his vast experience would aid car development and expedite de Vries’ learning curve.
This partially explains why Marko’s patience wore even thinner than usual.
However, Red Bull’s decision to choose 34-year-old Ricciardo over the promising Super Formula protege Liam Lawson suggests other factors at play. While Ricciardo was undoubtedly motivated to make a comeback after his difficult departure from McLaren and subsequent sabbatical, it is unlikely that the eight-time Grand Prix winner agreed to a mid-season return to struggling AlphaTauri without having his sights set on a bigger prize.
Ricciardo’s return was confirmed following an impressive Pirelli test at Silverstone, his first outing in the Red Bull RB19. Red Bull explicitly stated that he was on “loan” to Faenza. Team boss Christian Horner intriguingly remarked that it was “great to see Daniel hasn’t lost any form while away from racing and that the strides he has been making in his sim sessions translate on track. His times during the tyre test were extremely competitive. It was a very impressive drive, and we are excited to see what the rest of the season brings for Daniel on loan at Scuderia AlphaTauri.”
AlphaTauri might not be a bad long-term prospect for Ricciardo, especially with incoming CEO Peter Bayer and team boss Laurent Mekies set to oversee an overhaul, transitioning away from being solely a junior driver team.
However, it is difficult not to view Ricciardo’s return to Faenza, where he drove in 2012 and 2013, as an audition for a Red Bull seat. While Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez had a strong start to the 2023 season, his performance waned after Verstappen triumphed over him in the Miami Grand Prix in May. Subsequent mistakes resulted in Perez missing Q3 for five consecutive races, allowing Verstappen to secure six straight wins and build a 99-point lead.
Although Perez managed to retain second place in the championship due to the lack of a consistently competitive second team, it is evident that without Red Bull’s current advantage with the dominant RB19, their prospects in the constructors’ championship would not be as favorable.
To challenge Verstappen’s wins effectively, Red Bull will once again require a reliable second driver who can deliver regular podium finishes. This is precisely why Gasly and Albon were replaced and why Perez was initially brought in.
Perhaps Tsunoda was not seen as a credible contender for Perez’s seat in 2024, but Ricciardo’s unexpected return may serve as a signal to Perez that he must elevate his performance or face potential consequences.
If the gamble with Ricciardo fails, it could open the door for Lawson after a proper winter of preparation. Lawson could be introduced without subjecting him to the AT04 and potentially with the Super Formula title to his name.
There is little doubt that Ricciardo has these scenarios in mind.
Perez now has 12 races to prevent this from becoming Red Bull’s reality.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about driver lineup changes
Why did Red Bull replace de Vries with Ricciardo in their driver lineup?
Red Bull’s decision to replace de Vries with Ricciardo stems from their notorious lack of patience when drivers fail to deliver. They saw an opportunity to bring back Ricciardo, who showed impressive form during a Pirelli test. It could be seen as an audition for a potential Red Bull seat, while also signaling to Perez that he needs to step up his performance.
How has Red Bull handled driver lineup changes in the past?
Red Bull has a history of making swift changes to their driver lineup. They have replaced drivers like Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly, and Alex Albon in the past when they failed to meet expectations. However, they have also shown patience with drivers like Yuki Tsunoda, nurturing their development and offering support to help them improve.
Will Ricciardo’s return to AlphaTauri impact the team’s dynamics?
Ricciardo’s return to AlphaTauri could potentially have an impact on the team’s dynamics. His presence may bring new energy and experience to the team, which could positively influence their performance. It also puts pressure on Perez to elevate his performance and secure his seat for the future.
How does Red Bull’s driver lineup affect their chances in the constructors’ championship?
Red Bull’s driver lineup plays a crucial role in their prospects for the constructors’ championship. Having a strong second driver who can consistently deliver podium finishes is essential to challenge Verstappen’s wins and secure valuable points for the team. Red Bull aims to find the right balance between driver performance and team dynamics to maximize their chances in the championship.
More about driver lineup changes
- Red Bull Racing Official Website
- Formula 1 Official Website
- AlphaTauri Official Website
- Yuki Tsunoda’s Profile on Formula 1 Website
- Daniel Ricciardo’s Profile on Formula 1 Website
- Pierre Gasly’s Profile on Formula 1 Website
- Alex Albon’s Profile on Formula 1 Website
- Daniil Kvyat’s Profile on Formula 1 Website