Le Mans winner Richard Bradley suspects there is “something bigger” behind Daniel Ricciardo’s move into the AlphaTauri seat.Ricciardo’s Formula 1 return was confirmed last week as he swapped a third driver role at Red Bull for the AlphaTauri seat in place of the axed Nyck de Vries.
This weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will be Ricciardo’s first race since his final grand prix with McLaren at Abu Dhabi 2022 and there has been plenty of discussion as to what both the driver and Red Bull are hoping to get out of this loan move. Why AlphaTauri for Daniel Ricciardo? For Ricciardo, it is a chance to prove he is still the driver that earned eight career wins, but Red Bull’s motives seem a little less clear considering the AlphaTauri seat is usually reserved for those who could one day be in line for a move to the main team.
Bradley believes “something bigger” is behind the move and that Ricciardo has an “audition” for a run at Sergio Perez’s seat.“It’s strange, isn’t it?” Bradley said on the On Track GP podcast. “Because when you watch the videos of him, he says it’s like going back home as that’s where he was 10 years ago.“And you can look at it in that way but I think there’s something bigger going on here. I think Daniel Ricardo is not in a position that people normally are when they go to AlphaTauri, where they have to prove themselves and try and hold on to their career.
“I’m pretty suspicious that Red Bull are using it as an audition for him. Now, my theory behind this is Perez hasn’t been performing at the level that he was at the beginning of the season in the last few races. It’s still no problem at all because he’s running P2 in the championship and as a second driver, that’s all you could ask for.“But in the future Red Bull have obviously got their wind tunnel penalty, we know they’re not going to have as dominant a car as they do now, because it just doesn’t last in Formula 1, it’s as simple as that. So Red Bull are probably thinking they’re going to need somebody who’s going to be able to be at a similar level to Max [Verstappen] and not have these dips in form.
“Well since Max went to Red Bull, the only team-mate who gave him a serious run for his money consistently was Daniel Ricciardo.“We’ve all seen what Red Bull said about how he [Ricciardo] lost his mojo and his driving style but how he’s impressing in the sim and he gets on with Max, all the rest of it.“Maybe they’re having a look to say ‘Okay, we give Daniel these races just to see how he is. And if he proves himself, then we’ve got a viable number two option to Max.’ It just gives them an insurance policy almost.”
As for De Vries, Bradley believes he was getting closer to the level of Yuki Tsunoda.
“Nyck struggled at the beginning of the season and you’d kind of expect that coming into Formula 1,” Bradley said.“None of the feeder series go to any of the tracks at the beginning of the season so he won’t have ever been to Melbourne, been to Jeddah, been to Miami, whereas Yuki would have had the previous years’ experience with those circuits.
“Since we got to the European races, there was definitely an upturn in form for Nyck and he was getting a lot closer. Okay, he still wasn’t on the level of Tsunoda but I think he was getting there.“AlphaTauri, there’s no question, it’s the worst car on the grid this year, which it hasn’t been in the past. But if we go back a few years and we look at when George Russell was at Williams and Williams was the worst car and to be honest, probably an even worse situation than the AlphaTauri now, with George they gave him enough time and eventually, George rose into becoming the superstar that he is now. Yuki looks like he’s growing into that.
“I think there’s evidence that when there is a bad car on the grid, you have to give the drivers time to learn the ropes, because they don’t only feel the pressure from the team but they then feel the external pressure because they’re literally fighting at the back of the grid.”