The post-Silverstone tyre test was much anticipated by F1 fans as popular paddock personality and former race winner with Red Bull and Mclaren Daniel Ricciardo would have a chance to benchmark his pace in the dominant RB19. Many were wary that the reigning F1 champions, renowned for their cutthroat business model, could be poised to make a driver switch as Nyck De Vries continued to struggle for form at the British Grand Prix for junior team Alpha Tauri.
However, very few people expected Red Bull to break the news before Ricciardo had even set foot in the car which begs the question, was this the plan all along? This article will delve into the decision, the immediate impact and what it might mean for the future of Sergio Perez.
Did De Vries Deserve More Time?Embed from Getty Images
You would be forgiven for thinking Dutchman Nyck De Vries is a young and inexperienced driver, given his results through the first ten rounds of the season and the fact that this represented his first F1 contract. Despite this, Nyck is in fact equipped with a wealth of racing pedigree spanning across multiple different series and continents.
Part of the Mclaren young driver academy from a young age, Nyck left the team just as he went on to win the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2019. With no viable F1 seat available, he raced in the emerging series Formula E and became champion in 2021 as well as broadening his scope with sportscar races in the European Le Mans Series and World Endurance Championships in LMP2 machinery.
However, following a spell as a Mercedes development driver, his first F1 appearance came in 2022 as a stand-in at the Italian Grand Prix for Williams, where he would start to finish in the points on debut. It was this performance that would catch the eye of Dr Helmut Marko at Red Bull and at the age of 28, finally land him a full-time F1 drive for 2023.
As we now know, that full-time drive would last only 10 races as Red Bull once again decided to tamper with their driver lineup mid-season, a ruthless action that Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly have fallen victim to in the past.
The Pull Factor of RicciardoEmbed from Getty Images
There is no denying that Daniel Ricciardo will make a large contribution to the ongoing brand development of Alpha Tauri. A former fan favourite during his time on the F1 grid, he has the potential to attract a whole new fan base demographic to the team, perhaps one that views them as more than just a Red Bull ‘B’ team. The move represents an opportunity for both driver and team with Ricciardo looking to revive his F1 career and Alpha Tauri on the verge of re-branding for the 2024 season. His vibrant personality and reputation for late-breaking manoeuvres have the potential to drive the team forward both on track and off it.
Perhaps the team are seeking to achieve a long-term driver switch with Sergio Perez currently struggling for consistent form. There is a case to be made that they are yet to find a driver that could match and beat Max Verstappen in the same car since Ricciardo left for Mclaren. With the team developing their own engines independently for 2026, they will be keen to make hay at the top of the standings while they have a development edge on the chasing pack. There will come a time when a driver that can consistently back up Verstappen on race day will be required to make the most of the dominant performance of the RB19. Red Bull must consider this in the coming seasons as the performance gap between them and their rivals is likely to decrease as wind tunnel restrictions begin to take effect.
The Knock-on Effect on Perez and Red Bull’s JuniorsEmbed from Getty Images
Red Bull has made it clear that Sergio Perez is safe in his seat until the expiration of a contract running until the end of 2024. Despite this, he must be feeling the pressure. The timing of this re-shuffling at Alpha Tauri comes off the back of Perez failing to make the final part of qualifying for five consecutive races – a record that seems unfathomable with a car of that performance level. With a senior and experienced F1 driver in Ricciardo placed in a prime position to step up now given the chance, this form must improve to make certain of that seat for next season. Especially considering reports that Ricciardo was able to set a time in the post-Silverstone tyre test that would have secured second on the grid in Saturday’s qualifying session. Of course, variables must be taken into account such as weather conditions, tyre compounds and temperature, but the early signs are promising.
Some have questioned whether Red Bull is choosing to overlook their current Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda. He has shown an improved pace this season, managing to cut out some of the accidents that saw him struggle to produce quality performances on a regular basis. However, with Red Bull’s current engine supplier, Honda set to provide components for Aston Martin in the near future, there is potential that they would look to bring Yuki with them. Therefore, Red Bull may be reluctant to promote Yuki into an eventual Red Bull drive only to lose him to Aston shortly after.
The team do have a promising young talent in their academy Liam Lawson, currently impressing with his form in Japan’s premier racing series, Super Formula. Liam formerly competed in F3 and F2 before making the step to Asia and has gained valuable mileage in free practice sessions through his role as a development driver. If Tsunoda is to make way for Aston Martin, he is poised to take over at Alpha Tauri in what could be a big step in an eventual progression into the senior team.