Daniel Ricciardo is set to return to Formula 1 at the next Hungarian Grand Prix. He knows the assignment is no easy one, given the challenging performance of the AlphaTauri car that has positioned the team at the bottom of the constructors’ championship standings.
Reflecting on Ricciardo‘s decision to replace Nyck De Vries, Red Bull’s team principal, Horner, recognizes a larger plot. Horner contends Ricciardo is aiming to establish himself as the prime contender for a seat at the Red Bull team in 2025, once current driver Perez’s contract expires.
In an interview on the F1 Nation podcast, Horner refuted suggestions that Ricciardo was being assessed for a Red Bull seat in 2024. As he said, “At the moment, there’s only something in place until the end of the season, so there are no thoughts or expectations beyond that. We’ve loaned him to AlphaTauri until the end of the year. Obviously, our drivers are going to be Max [Verstappen] and Checo again next year, but it’s always good to have talent in reserve. I think Daniel is viewing AlphaTauri, he firmly wants to be pitching for that 2025 Red Bull seat. That is his goal and objective and, by going to AlphaTauri, I think he sees that as his best route of stating his case for 2025.”
The decision to place Ricciardo in the AlphaTauri seat for the remainder of the season materialized swiftly during last week’s Silverstone tire test. Ricciardo‘s impressive run on the Red Bull‘s RB19 car was a deciding factor. Despite his seven months away from the sport, the Australian driver’s third or fourth lap was just a second off the pace of their regular drivers. Horner mentioned, “What impressed me the most, and I went up to have a look at the test, was bearing in mind he hasn’t driven this car and hadn’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. That first [flying] lap of probably what was his seventh lap of the day would have put him on the front of the grid. So it was hugely impressive.”
Horner acknowledged that while Ricciardo might struggle with the demanding AlphaTauri, the Australian driver willingly resonated with the challenge as soon as it was clear a de Vries replacement was required. Notably, Horner shared, “First of all, we had to be clear that did he want to do it? Stepping into an AlphaTauri is very different to driving a Red Bull Car. It will certainly have its challenges and I think that we needed to be sure of was he up for that challenge of 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 an F1 driver again.”
Horner justified the decision not to put a newcomer like Liam Lawson in the AlphaTauri seat, opting for an experienced driver like Ricciardo instead. Focusing on why de Vries didn’t meet expectations, Horner offered, “It was becoming obviously a difficult situation for Nyck De Vries because there was a high expectation on him, because whilst inexperienced in F1, he’s obviously a very experienced driver. I think that there was a general feeling that Nyck wasn’t quite hitting the mark. I think that Nyck is a very capable driver and a FE champion and an F2 champion, but he’s obviously got a lot of experience. He’s not a young driver as such from an age perspective. And I just didn’t see how it fitted within the junior programme. It was always a stop gap.”
Asserting that the decision could not be postponed until after de Vries’ home race at Zandvoort, Horner explained, “I think it’s very difficult to do that. It would have meant obviously leaving him in the car until after the summer break. I think the situation was clear. It was a question of okay, what’s the point of waiting? If we are going to do something we might as well get on with it and give Daniel 12 races to see what he’s capable of.”