While Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 sabbatical has come to a surprisingly early end, with the Australian driver set to make his comeback with Red Bull sister team Alpha Tauri at the upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix, his return has also kicked off the F1 silly season in a big way. Ricciardo, an eight-time grand prix winner, will step into the seat vacated by Nyck de Vries after Red Bull opted to drop the Dutch driver after just 10 races.
There’s much more at play than a late season cameo for Ricciardo however, with the Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko declaring he was a serious contender to potentially return as Max Verstappen’s teammate in 2024. The comments come amid an extended run of poor form for Verstappen’s current teammate, Sergio Perez.
Perez, despite sitting second in the championship, could be at risk of being unceremoniously dumped for next season, with Marko declaring his must improve his qualifying performance, sooner rather than later. The Mexican driver has qualified well outside the top 10 in the past five races, recording only one podium finish in that time.
However it won’t come down to just Ricciardo vs Perez – for the Australian driver to have a shot at an unlikely return to the seat he walked out on back in 2018. In his way stands now teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who has impressed in his third F1 season despite the Alpha Tauri arguably being the worst car on the 2023 grid.
“(Perez) is second in the world championship, so it would make no sense to want to get rid of him now,” Marko told Dutch news outlet De Telegraaf. “Also at Silverstone, his race was good, but he needs to improve in qualifying.
“For Ricciardo, we also have to see first how he compares to Tsunoda. I think Yuki is underestimated by many people. The AlphaTauri is not the easiest car to drive, but Yuki has proven that it is possible to get good results.”
Nyck de Vries a victim of brutal F1 moves
Meanwhile de Vries, a former Formula E and F2 champion, could consider himself hard done by to be out of an F1 seat so soon after making it onto the grid. He stormed into the Red Bull frame after his stunning F1 debut at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, where he scored a top 10 finish filling in for full-time driver Alex Albon while he was out battling appendicitis.
De Vries was held to an incredibly lofty standard in his first full season of F1, with Marko saying that had expected the 28-year-old to be on par with Tsunoda from the outset. This despite the Japanese driver’s prior two seasons with the team, in which he has frequently shown some flashes of brilliance despite a penchant for explosive rants on team radio.
“We expected him to be at least equal to his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda this year, but that was not the case,” Marko said. “Actually, he was always three-tenths of a second slower. We didn’t see any improvement.
“He is 28 years old, has a lot of experience, and has also been able to gain a lot of knowledge as a test driver in various Formula 1 cars. You can’t compare him to a young rookie in my eyes.
“At the end of April in Baku, he started the weekend well and I thought he was going to perform better, but then he crashed again. He, unfortunately, didn’t do one super lap that we were amazed by.”